Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

James Leal Centre

Located on elevated ground on the site of the former 18th Century Ray House, this new sustainable building acts as a gateway to the Roding Valley Corridor. The visitor centre is situated in the heart of Ray Park, Redbridge, on the outskirts of London and accommodates a wide range of visitor, leisure, education and community facilities in one of the area’s most important open spaces.


The centre stands alone among a set of trees where its angular projecting roof contrasts with the softer shapes of the park. The north-facing sides of the roof have a shallow pitch and are covered in solar thermal collectors, while the south-facing sides are steeper and admit indirect natural light. A translucent canopy covers a forecourt to the west, which can also be used as an outdoor gallery. The building’s form and materials include perforated galvanized steel cladding, raw timber trusses and steel columns which provide a powerful dialogue with the natural setting. The building acts as a focal point, drawing visitors into the park where they can fully appreciate the natural landscape around them. An external translucent canopy defines a large forecourt to the west that acts as a gathering zone and outdoor exhibition area with cycle and disabled parking facilities. The cafe extends south over a new terrace adjacent to raised planting beds which grow edible plants for use in the café. In seeking to minimise its environmental impact, the centre uses earth pipes to provide cooling, roof-mounted solar thermal panels and a wood pellet boiler for heating and hot water, and natural ventilation throughout.

Images © Mark Haddon Photography