The winning entry in an open competition to design an environmental education center in the Karura urban forest in Nairobi, Kenya. Located in the northern part of Nairobi County, bordering the Muthaiga, Gigiri and Runda residential areas, the Centre will seek to educate people on the many species of plants, birds, insects and mammals to be found within Karura's diverse landscape.
The planning of the project include a foyer that also is a space for a permanent exhibition on Karura Forest and temporary exhibitions area on corridors or verandah with interactive screens with individual controls and headsets. It boosts an "e-library" to exhibit and make available the most recent publications from the main environmental and forestry stakeholders in the region and around the world. As a venue for topical presentations and debates the design incorporates an auditorium capable of accommodating around 200 persons and small conference rooms for a maximum of 20 people each to host meetings and seminars. As part of recreation the center has a cafeteria and eco-gift shop. Alongside the building, plans for landscaping include an outdoor amphitheatre for "discussions, presentations and discourses amidst the lush greenery, birdsong and fresh air of the forest."
The structure mediates between the public and the forest: architecture separates the public and the forest but provides a new journey towards nature. The narrative guides one, through and into different thresholds – the water, wall and forest. The wetlands showcases subtle forest life, where birds are integral to the ecology of the forest and maintain biodiversity. The water separates one from the wall, just as it stands as a boundary between the project and the forest. The wall is a threshold dividing the landscape, separating the public from the forest and protecting the building from western sun, while placing the forest on display.
Timber boxes cut through the wall and protrude into the forest at canopy level. The wall is constructed from local stone and clad in coral stone, and beyond lies the encapsulating forest. The timber boxes cross the threshold of the wall and extend into the woodlands.
The timber boxes facilitate movement across all thresholds: over the water they use light and passive cooling systems to create comfortable cohabitation space. They cut through the wall, extending into the woodland and offering vistas onto the forest canopy. Inspired by traditional Masai building techniques, the boxes become an extension of the forest and overall the project blends into nature as part of it. It complements it perfectly rather than compete with it.
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