A new environmentally conscious indoor play facility, designed by Corstorphine & Wright in collaboration with owners Susie and Peter Grant, is currently under construction at Stockeld Park in North Yorkshire.
The design of ‘The Hive’, as it is to be known, reflects the sustainable and environmental aspirations of the park itself, and at 20,000 sq ft, it will become the UK’s largest indoor play facility when it completes in late 2021.
The Hive is both a modern and sustainable building and an intriguing destination for visitors. The circular building is clad in Siberian Larch timber, and its curved facade features artistic ‘trunks’ connected with metal knuckles that climb up to support the roof. The green sedum roof, which improves air quality and absorbs rainwater to slow drainage, also helps the building blend in with its surroundings. Limited exterior facade openings and modern insulation, make the building highly energy efficient.
Design decisions were driven by a need to respect and preserve the existing natural setting as much as possible. The building was carefully positioned and dug approximately two metres into the earth, so it softly sinks into the landscape. With a low-key entranceway, minimal interventions have been made beyond the building’s footprint – just a single path connects it to the trail. “For Peter and Susie, the forest is an integral part of their life, so the building always had to feel like it was part of the woodland environment,” says Simon Crosby, Director, Corstorphine & Wright.
While it is an indoor facility, The Hive seeks to connect its users to the outdoors at all times in order to keep nature the central focus of the play experience. Shaped like a doughnut, the building has a central circular courtyard with a transparent and fully recyclable ETFE roof, so children feel like they are outside in the elements, even during the rain and snow. The 200-seat cafe features large glazed openings, which bring in plenty of natural light and encourage parents to enjoy the scenery with a coffee while their children play.
Interior materials are natural where possible and often exposed, yet also strong and robust enough for vigorous play activities. Accoya, a modified wood known for its sustainable, durable and long-lasting properties, was chosen for the bespoke play equipment to create a tactile and splinter-free experience. Naturally durable, the blockwork walls and steel structure are left exposed to limit excess material use. Undulating rubberised safety flooring was installed for safety purposes while bringing plenty of dynamism to the play area.
The closely intertwined interior and exterior of the play facility was the result of intense collaboration between the architects, a set designer, engineers and contractors. The enormous play structure required structural loading through the building’s frame, so each design model had to be fully integrated. Leading children on an epic adventure through four feature zones: Space, Sky, Sea and Jungle. The play structure ascends up to eight metres in height and flows through high-level gantries and bridges up into the roof lights and out into the courtyard.
The Hive was commissioned to support the weather-dependent outdoor attractions of Stockeld Park, the 2000 acre estate of a Palladian house designed 1763 by architect James Paine located near York. The hugely popular ‘enchanted forest’ activity trail through the scenic woodland around a lake reaches 5000 daily visitors on peak sunny days. However, in order to attract visitors during the winter or on rainy days, the estate owners required an indoor play facility, with amenities such as a cafe, kitchen and events space to provide a more consistent offering for their community.
From its forest environment to its eco-friendly play schemes, Stockeld Park is an exhilarating celebration of nature, so naturally, the new building had to capture this same spirit. Owners Susie and Peter imagined The Hive as an old tree trunk that could be a buzzing habitat for activities and an anchor for the outdoor trail.
When they discovered a circular timber-clad building with a sedum roof, The British Horse Society HQ in Warwickshire, which encapsulated all of their ideas for the project, they contacted its architects Corstorphine & Wright directly.
With a wide-ranging portfolio of architecture and design across the UK, Corstorphine & Wright has designed many buildings for leisure from golf simulations to cinemas, yet Simon immediately recognised Stockeld Park as a unique opportunity. “As well as the prospect of being able to work with two passionate individuals, Susie and Peter, and support their innovative local family business, The Hive was a positive and worthy contribution to sustainable design and the natural environment, children’s welfare and education, and local wellbeing and happiness.”.
Although the building is located on protected Green Belt land, its eco-conscious design and wholesome focus on nature and educating children about the environment clinched the support of the planning department. “It was an exceptional circumstance to gain planning permission, but the local authority could see that our intention was to recreate what we were doing outside, inside. As well as recognising Corstorphine & Wright’s sustainable design, they saw how the building would support the future of the countryside, and our innovation from a traditional agricultural estate into a diversified, eco-friendly visitor attraction for the community,” commented Peter and Susie.
The Hive is due to be completed in late Autumn this year.