The construction of the Big Nature Centre, in support of the Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Project, will provide a world class facility to inspire the teaching of ecology, establishing a new form of civic amenity where all visitors are curators of the open environment.
This project utilises an ecological engineering approach to chalk grassland restoration to produce surrogate conditions for ancient chalk grassland so that the roof will form a habitat rich in chalk downland flora & fauna, increasing the biodiversity of the site in the process. The Centre will be carbon zero and the techniques used to establish this will be on permanent display as part of the educational experience. The unique design takes advantage of the natural contours of an existing chalk slope; from most angles it will actually be a “non-building”, hidden beneath the chalk and only visible from the south. Sinking the building into the natural contours ensures a high degree of earth sheltering on three sides and tangibly demonstrates the “kingdom of chalk” to all visitors.
The south facing slope ensures a perfect orientation for the building, offering the combination of both passive solar gain and thermal shelter. Natural cross-ventilation and conservatories to the south with deciduous planting provide solar heat gain in winter and protection in summer for an attractive, healthy and comfortable environment for the occupants which is also energy efficient and easy to power with renewable energy. Rain will be harvested for non-potable uses along with grey water treated though low intensity plant based system – transpiration, evaporation, oxygenation and rhizology (treatment through the bacteria that thrive around the plants root systems). Again resonating with its downland setting, the majority of the internal walls will be constructed from rammed chalk.