Singleton Environment Centre

Ashford Borough Council


The Singleton Environment Centre is a vibrant environment and community centre with an imaginative programme of activities catering for people of all ages. Our brief was to design a centre which would act as a gateway into the Ashford Woodland; display information about environmental issues to its visitors in an engaging way; become a destination for the community and visitors from further a field; provide facilities for educational and fitness classes; provide offices and workshops for local Woodland groups; and multi-use activity rooms for hire.

Start / Oct. ‘05
On Site / Apr. ‘07
Completion / Mar. ‘08
Gross Internal Floor Area
369 sqm
Construction Type
Timber Frame
Total / £1,100,000

…The building has a key education role in raising the awareness and understanding of sustainability and accommodate a wide range of activities to support the local community.

Building Design Construction Awards


The whole idea behind the new Environment Centre was for it to be a ‘light touch’ building that developed with a truly integrated architectural, environmental, and landscape strategy.

The completed building is used both as a headquarters for, and to highlight the work of, the local Community Woodland Volunteers. It acts as a social meeting place for local people, and as an educational resource for learning about nature conservation and biodiversity issues.

2010 Building Design Construction Awards – Sustainable Design Winner

Process and Results

The Architype team worked from the very start with our landscape architect, an artist, and an exhibition designer, to ensure a multi-layered approach integrating landscape, building, and site. We focused on the ‘messaging’ of the centre, and how the environmental information could be put across in a number of interactive and subliminal ways, for example the dipping pond for insect and aquatic plant collection; the wildlife monitoring camera; and a building materials display area with short films about the building process.

Environmental measures included a low energy building design, with orientation of the building enabling passive solar heating in winter and good solar protection against overheating in summer. Natural ventilation is provided to all spaces, natural materials are specified throughout, along with a wood pellet fuel boiler, rainwater collection, and SUD system (Sustainable Urban Drainage System).

The building structure is timber frame from sustainable sources, with stripped tree trunks used for columns, and timber cladding to the outside. There is a heavyweight spine wall, which divides key spaces but also acts as a thermal mass which retains heat in winter and reduces cooling requirements in summer.

Inside the building, there is a café with indoor and outdoor seating, and two seminar rooms which have proved immensely popular, with regular school visits and frequent hiring out for events. There are also offices and workshop space for the woodland management volunteers.

  • The structural posts on the front of the building are solid larch.
  • The workshops and boiler room are five joined together untreated oak-clad shipping containers, with tree trunks used for the external column.
  • Reclaimed bricks are used in the outside walls.
  • The building’s roof is made from recycled aluminium.
  • Natural ventilation to all spaces. The ‘Windcatcher’ ventilation system enables cool air to be drawn through the building passively in the summer, avoiding the need for mechanical ventilation. Using compartmentalized vertical vents, fresh air is brought into the room and stale warm air is expelled using the natural effects of the wind.
  • A heavyweight spine wall acts as a divider for the internal spaces, and as a large thermal mass to retain heat in winter and reduce cooling needs in summer. The wall is made from Sumatec blocks, which are compressed earth bricks and, unlike traditional bricks, do not need to be fired, thereby reducing C02. The thermal wall is covered with lime.
  • Hemp mixed with recycled cotton is used on internal walls, improving the building’s insulation.
  • The centre uses a wood chip boiler for heating, with coppiced wood fuel sourced locally. Water is heated by solar panels.
  • All lights are low energy, and movement sensors switch lights on and off.
  • A grey water recycling system collects rainwater from the roof and directs it into an outside tank. It is then filtered and pumped back into an indoor storage tank and used for flushing toilets and plant irrigation. Overflow from the storage tank is used to top up the pond.
  • The SUD (Sustainable Urban Drainage) system deals with surface water naturally by absorbing it into the water course, not the sewers.
  • All soil which was excavated from the site during building has been retained and formed into mounds to create new habitats and areas for childrens’ play.
  • Topsoil from the neighbouring housing development has been used to create a natural amphitheatre, and Kentish rag stone from the site has been used to create the seating in the amphitheatre.
  • All plants are native English species and are managed by the staff and volunteer teams.

Architype worked with an exhibition designer and landscape architect, to produce a comprehensive ‘Interpretation Masterplan’, which investigated all the environmental issues relevant to the site, from local woodland conservation, to global issues of energy use, and proposed ways of creatively interpreting these issues in and around the building. Core messages were identified, around which specific display methods, activities, and building features were developed.

A new woodland management plan was formed, to enable volunteers to undertake specific practices such as tree planting and coppicing, wildflower meadow management, and informal path work. The volunteers’ work would be highlighted throughout the building, encouraging new members.

Landscape interpretation proposals included new earth-berms and ha-has, to help define activities and key areas, and direct people to the centre in an informal way. Artistic interventions en route to the centre, using landforms and rocks, create a deeper sense of the landscape and create new places to sit.

Ecological and nature based proposals included mown paths amongst tall grasses for insect spotting and collection; dipping ponds for educational visits, where children can collect specimens and then study them back inside the building; and bird and reptile hides for observation.

Inside the centre, the objective was for the building to be an educational resource in itself, demonstrating its environmental features for visitors to see and understand. Proposals included a sustainable materials display for visitors to touch; a rainwater harvesting pool, with graphic interpretation of how it works; and artists’ installations within the building which respond to light and air flow patterns.

Architype Team

Project Partners

Main Contractor
R J Barwick Construction Services Ltd
Quantity Surveyor
James Nisbet & Partners
Structural Engineer
Ellis & Moore Consulting Engineers
M&E Engineer
Landscape Architects
Coe Design


  • 2010 Building Design Construction Awards & Sustainable Design Winner
  • 2010 Ashford Building Design Construction Awards & Sustainable Design Winner
Back to top