- 2013 – 2015
- Location: Pensthorpe, Norfolk
- Client: Pensthorpe Wildlife and Gardens
- Project Status: built
- Contract value: £1 million
- RIBA Awards 2017 – Shortlisted
- RIDBA Building Award 2017 – Winner, Recreation & Leisure
- Graham Allen Award for Design and Conservation 2016 – Winner
- RIBA Awards 2016 – Shortlisted
- BLUEPRINT Awards 2015 – Shortlisted
Pensthorpe Wildlife Reserve integrates nature conservation with inspiring young people to care for the natural environment through adventurous play. The Play Barn reinvents the indoor play centre, bringing sensory and haptic delight through a connection to nature. Equally fundamental to the brief was financial sustainability, the broadening of the appeal of the reserve, and the inspiration of children
The strategy was to reinvent and refine the agricultural shed; to take the many practical and enjoyable qualities of simple agricultural buildings as lesson and inspiration, and yet deliver a building which has a complex brief, is comfortable for many highly active occupants and is highly sustainable.
The brief of ‘natural play’ encourages children to appreciate the natural world through encounter and adventure. This demands a rich sensory connection to the environment and landscape, as well as comfort for a dense occupation of active users and their relaxing parents.
The design refines the agricultural shed through highly integrated design give a deep sustainability: a loose fit strategy for the internal accommodation gives tectonic clarity and long-term adaptability – the play equipment, rooms and even building use will change
The Play Barn successfully addresses several conservation issues. The siting of the building establishes a coherent masterplan for the reserve, with a clear relationship to the existing buildings based on the historic settlement pattern, and the creation of high quality spaces between buildings. The appearance of the building enhances the rural setting, whilst the ornamental covering of holes also offers the potential for nesting habitats.