The Lookout Discovery Centre, Hyde Park
David Morley Architects
- Original design
- David Morley Architects, 2012
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
• An outdoor education centre where the Royal Parks delivers the education and community programme for Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. This includes activities linked to the national curriculum for school groups and a range of events from walks and talks to meditation and yoga for the community.
• Also available as a venue for private hire events to financially support the education programme. The Lookout has been used for corporate hospitality including an event for British Triathlon in association with the 2012 Olympics, wedding receptions, fundraising events, private parties, photo calls, media launches and business meetings / away days.
• Home to The Royal Parks Development and Learning department
• David Morley Architects (previously worked with the Royal Parks on The Hub in Regents Park)
• Fairhurst Ward Abbotts – Contractors
• Rider Levett Bucknall – Project Management
• It needed to blend into the surroundings of Hyde Park – a listed landscape
• The initial concept came from a quote by Louis Kahn an American architect “Schools began with a man under a tree, who did not realise he was a teacher, discussing his realisation with a few who did not realise they were students”
• The building reflects the image of a tree canopy; a curved canopy roof, tree trunk structural support, colours reflecting nature (the ceiling in the Discovery Rooms replicate what you might see in terms of colours when you look up through a tree canopy)
• Bringing the outside inside – light and airy building. Enjoyable / fun place to learn even when it’s cold outside.
• A storeyard – used for rubbish / deckchairs etc.
• The Gatehouse building (then known as The LookOut) and old metropolitan dog kennels were used as classrooms by The Royal Parks. Not fit for purpose – cold in winter, hot in summer, bad layout so couldn’t see the Education Officers, corrugated iron roof with noisy scampering squirrels, risk of asbestos etc.
• The Royal Parks fundraised £2.2m to build the new centre with the help of The Halcyon Gallery, a sculpture which can be seen on the south shores of the Serpentine near the lido, as well as a number of generous individual donations.
• The new centre was opened in September 2011.
The Gatehouse (small black weather boarded building at the entrance)
• Edwardian building
• Not listed but renovated to reflect its original features
• Now used as a meeting room
• Where the name “The LookOut” originates from. Was previously used by the police to keep an eye on the Park from the lookout point at the top of the building.
• Designed as a multifunctional space with
o Underfloor heating
o Folding dividing wall (magnetic whiteboard) to make two rooms or one large room
o State-of-the-art technology: interactive whiteboards, digiblue microscopes, ipads, etc.
• Areas mentioned in the landscaping section (below) to encourage biodiversity
• Wormery (small black container not part of the building) – located next to the minibeast area. Used to create natural fertiliser. Processes most kitchen green waste.
• Compost area by the minibeast area. Processes most garden green waste.
• Paint that doesn’t emit gases
• Cavity insulation made of shredded newspaper (called Warmcell)
• Water provided by the reservoir to flush toilets and irrigate
• Brown roof for thermoregulations. Creates additional habitat – self-seeded with wild flowers and grasses. Potential for ground-nesting birds.
• Large windows and skylights to provide significant amounts of light and air
• Materials from sustainable sources; green oak frame, cedar shingle cladding, etc.
The structure / cladding
• The building’s structure is quite unique as it is held up purely by the green oak frame and made to look like tree trunks.
• Bat boxes have been cut into the underside of the soffit on the south side of the building. This is because a warm spot is preferred by bats to nest during the day before coming out at dusk. The holes are very small – almost the size of a matchbox, and are flush with the green oak frame so that the bats (which have poor visibility) can find their way into the holes easily.
• The building is raised in comparison to the Parkland surrounding it because it is built on top of a Victorian reservoir.
• The reservoir was reinstated when the Centre was built (pictures can be seen on display) and is now filled with water from the Kensington Gardens borehole at the Italian Gardens. The water is brought by pipework to the reservoir and then used to irrigate the surrounding Parkland and as grey water to flush the toilets in the centre.
Landscaping – planted to encourage biodiversity and a variety of habitats
• Butterfly bank (north side of the building near the entrance) – planted with species which encourage butterflies and bees
• Minibeast area – south side of the building. Area covered with leaf mulch from Kensington Gardens and old tree trunks from Green Park to encourage minibeasts such as
earthworms etc. Used as part of the Learning programme.
• Raised planters at the front / north of the building enable those less able to do all the same activities that the rest of the grounds offer; minibeast hunting, pond dipping etc.
• The whole building is Disability Discrimination Act compliant.
• Sensory garden on the south side of the building planted with herbs and tactile plants
Entrance pillars/ Lightning tree / lights in foyer
• The entrance pillars were designed by a University of Arts London Foundation student to reflect the nature and purpose of the Centre. The wood is oak from Richmond Park (the darker one of the two has been infected by Beefsteak fungus which is widely sought after by furniture makers) and carved by a sculptor using a chain saw.
• The Lightning Tree was cut down from just in front of the main entrance in the main Park. Struck by lightning in 1999, it became rotten and unsafe and needed to be moved. It was moved to the landscape of the Centre as an artistic feature, and as a new habitat for our minibeasts.
• The nest lights in the foyer were designed by an artist called Martha Freud and are made of intertwined driftwood.
• 75% of the roof is brown (the remainder is zinc) – meaning it is made of rubble and soil. Everything which can be seen on the roof now has self-seeded – it was purely rubble and soil when it was first built.
• A brown roof was chosen to encourage biodiversity because we are surrounded by large amounts of green grass already.
• Brown roofs are not only good for sustainability due to providing a natural habitat, but they are a perfect mechanism for thermoregulation as they help retain heat in the winter and absorb during the summer.
• In future, we will have a rooftop camera so that people can learn about the roof from the Discovery Rooms.
Has the building won any awards?
• Regional Winner of RICS awards
• Shortlisted for Green build Awards, NLA Awards, BNFL Award
The Royal Parks is the charity that support London’s eight amazing Royal Parks so that everyone can enjoy them now and in the future.
The Royal Parks are Bushy Park, The Green Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, The Regent’s Park (with Primrose Hill), Richmond Park and St James’s Park.
This totals 5,000 acres of carefully conserved urban parkland, home to hundreds of thousands of trees, plants and wildlife, plus numerous historic monuments and of course more than 77 million visitors each year.
There is a drinking fountain near the toilets in the main building. Otherwise, Serpentine Bar and Kitchen is 5 minutes’ walk away. Turn right out of the front gate and follow the boundary railings around to the public toilets. Follow that path straight down to the Serpentine Lake where you will find the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen.
In the main building through the Discovery Rooms. There are disabled, men’s and women’s toilets. There are also public toilets to the east of the building. If baby changing is required, it is possible to use the disabled toilets in the office side of the building on request.
Marble Arch tube, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge (refer to map).
N.B. No smoking or dogs (except assistance dogs) are allowed within the grounds.
• On Saturday, David Morley Architects will be providing guided tours of the building (maximum 20 per tour). First come first served. Bookings will be taken. Tours will be on the hour, every hour from 11:30 with the last tour at 1:30pm.
• On Saturday and Sunday, the Royal Parks Education Centre team will be offering 20 minute pond-dipping sessions throughout the day. Please ask staff for more information.
• Self-guided nature trail for families set up around the grounds. Answer sheets and pencils can be collected from the Discovery Rooms.
• Further information about the centre and the Royal Parks can be found in the Discovery Rooms and foyer.