Langley Vale

RIBA competition for the Woodland Trust, Surrey. 2016

Nestling into the woodland clearing like a small encampment of ceremonial tents in a forest glade, the building is a memorable, sustainable and practical enclosure and backdrop for the Trust’s many public activities. The welcoming entrance is clear, indicated by a slip in the building and articulated by the rammed earth spine wall. The generous apse-ended lobby opens onto the paved gathering space outside. In winter, a fire or wood-burning stove invites chilled walkers to warm up before engaging with the Trust’s messages in the main hall. An external drinking fountain and basin serves visitors and their dogs.

The main room is bright, receiving natural light from the roof glazing and through the full height windows looking onto and across the clearing. The billowing ceiling gives the sense of a lightweight and airy enclosure. The hall may be opened up to the landscape on good days and for large crowds.

Site plan
Approach to building in the landscape

The accommodation is arranged to each side of a long, rammed earth spine wall. To one side are three principal public spaces: lobby; hall; covered external area. Other private or ancillary functions are arranged along the other side of the spine wall and are accessed internally or externally depending on their role. Minimal staffing is required: WCs can be open for use while the building is closed to the public. The sequence of large public spaces give flexibility, e.g. a drinks reception could take place in the lobby before a speech or meeting in the hall.

Walls are constructed from either rammed earth, which gives excellent thermal mass, or highly insulated timber framing. The frames are clad with timber weatherboarding. Roofs are constructed from timber rafters and trusses. The large roof is clad with timber shingles, the smaller one with copper with undulating eaves. We would anticipate the earth and the timber (if possible) coming from the site. Rammed earth is an ancient technique which is ideal for engaging the local community in the construction of the building.

Roofing shingles and timber planks may be sponsored and the local Cub Scout pack could arrange the exterior paving and internal flooring. Within the taut architectural language of the building, a looseness exists to enable budgets and community engagement to be met, and opportunities in materials sourcing to be accommodated.

Ground floor plan
Exhibition hall interior