Bracknell Heritage Centre

The project for a Heritage Centre in Crowthorne Woods – part of the greater Crown Estate managed Windsor Forest – has to encompass pride in the history of the area while balancing such interests with the image of Bracknell as a new town and centre of a flourishing community. Creation of “The Look Out”, Bracknell’s Heritage Centre, stemmed from the Council’s wish to promote a greater understanding of Bracknell’s urban and rural surroundings and to improve educational and leisure facilities. The buildings are located on the edge of the town, and form a gateway to the additional 2,600 acres of woodland opened to public access for the first time in co-operation with the Crown Estate. The Centre serves the dual purpose of acting as a focus for the district, establishing its identity as a place of interconnecting themes, past, present, and future, whilst providing all the amenities expected by a more sophisticated public; including a cafe overlooking the forest, an audio-visual theatre, permanent exhibition displays, an education base, and a shop. Houses for forest rangers, workshops, offices, and a temporary exhibition hall also form part of a social and cultural complex for the community and visitors. Beyond the potential of the Heritage Centre to act as a link between the urban and natural environment its interpretive role can also promote awareness of environmental issues, the woodland habitat, and the consequences of people’s use and enjoyment of the forest. The concept of a woodland visitor centre, rather than a town museum, emerged in 1986 to help promote a greater understanding of the evolution of the local community, with the complementary intentions of improving access to the countryside for informal recreation, and the Centre was formally opened by the Queen in April 1991. The design of the buildings had to resolve disparate, even contradictory, criteria. The Centre should be welcoming and “open”, yet secure for supervision and management of visitors; and protective against potential vandalism in its relatively isolated location. The composition alludes to memories of allusions to village, farmyard, manor, or forest lodge; popular meanings with a sense of familiarity. Yet the architecture is unashamedly modern in its conception, attitudes to design, technology of construction, and the deployment of solidity and transparency. However, it is rooted in the observation and interpretation of precedent, and a regional pragmatism which consciously seeks to avoid pastiche vernacular or overt historicism. The contextual spirit and detail architecture of the buildings is sensitive to the educational purpose and the forest setting; carefully exploiting the utilisation of renewable timber products and resources from softwood timber framing and cladding, to cedar shingles. The distinctive columns to the entrance porch are trunks from a stand of Douglas Firs felled just metres from the site and erected green. Advanced techniques insulate the buildings external to their structure, employing concepts of “warm wall and roof” construction, to achieve highly efficient energy concious buildings.

Location

  • Bracknell

Gross Area

  • 1000 to 1999 sqm

Sectors

  • Culture & Entertainment - Visitors' Centres, Education - General, Food and Beverage - Restaurants, Houses and Housing - One-off Houses, Landscaping - General

Key Services

  • Contract Advice, Energy / Environmental Expertise, Full Architectural Service, Interior Design, Planning Applications

Awards

  • Redland Pitched Roof - Commendation