The new Betteshanger Visitor Centre will be one of the UK’s most sustainable buildings. It is designed to enhance the health and wellbeing of visitors and occupants. The building has been designed to comply with the WELL Building Standard® and is expected to be the first new building in Europe to achieve certification under the scheme.
Furthermore it will be BREEAM “Excellent” rated with an A+ Energy Performance Certificate (-4), meaning that it will be a zero carbon building in use. It is a great demonstration of how sustainable and healthy building design are compatible.
The building has been designed to have minimal environmental and human impact using passive principles. Cundall’s sustainability team has been engaged in both the detailed design of the building as well as the masterplanning for the wider Betteshanger Sustainable Parks. Starting from Passivhaus design principles, the building has optimised glazing orientation and sizes to take advantage of beneficial solar gain in winter while using solar shading devices to limit gain in summer. The majority of the spaces are naturally ventilated utilising the excellent local air quality. The only mechanically ventilated spaces are the changing areas, toilets, kitchen and museum areas where the heat from the exhaust air will be recovered.
Part of the building will house the Kent Mining Museum which will showcase the rich history of the site. It will provide information to visitors on how the industrial revolution was reliant on dirty fossil fuels which have given rise to climate change and environmental damage. The centres sustainable fuel sources will demonstrate to visitors some of the solutions necessary to avert global warming.
Heating will be provided by a demonstration biomass boiler which will have its own innovation centre, complete with wood chip from local wood cuttings. Solar thermal and photovoltaic panels will make this a true zero carbon building, meeting all of the annual energy demands onsite from renewable energy sources. By having the mining museum and sustainable energy centre in the same building, it provides a wonderful opportunity to educate visitors on the history and potential future of energy.
The health and wellbeing of the visitors and occupants has also been at the heart of the design. To this end, in order to achieve certification, natural materials with low or zero VOCs have been specified, with the spaces designed to achieve stringent comfort conditions based on current and future climate scenarios. Initially there was concern regarding the quality of the air due to pollutants from the old colliery, but air testing dispelled these concerns. The catering provision was a challenge as the WELL standard places a lot of emphasis on a healthy diet and providing information for people to make a responsible decision.
As part of the overall park-wide sustainability masterplan, the cafe and shop at the visitor centre will sell local food and crafts, produced within the country park and allotments. Another key element of the building, and the whole country park, is the cycle hire scheme, which enables the local community to actively enjoy the park. Spaces have been designed to give connectivity to the country park to the south of the building, a water feature gives a connection to nature to the north. The conference centre will be available to businesses and private functions and he building will be open to the community seven days a week and the centre will form the hub of the proposed Betteshanger sustainable parks with links to sustainable projects throughout the South East of England.