Regenerating a polluted site as an environmental and educational visitor attraction

Solar Canopy, The Earth Centre
The solar canopy at The Earth Centre

The Earth Centre was a millennium visitor attraction providing both education and entertainment around environmental issues. It was built on a 300-acre site in one of the most environmentally devastated areas in the country, the coalfields of South Yorkshire.
Our aim, through a masterplan for the site and the design of the arrivals building, was to demonstrate the potential of environmental design principles. The Earth Centre consists of three major buildings:  The Planet Earth Gallery is partly buried underground beneath a grass meadow roof and behind a rampart wall of stone and concrete.

The Entrance Building is a lightweight timber and glass pavilion which houses the cade, meeting room and information centre. Its canopy links the two buildings and supports a 1,000sqm photovoltaic array, providing around a fifth of the building's energy.

The scheme was completed with the benefit of a THERMIE grant from the European Union as well as monies from the Millennium Commission and the European Regional Development Fund. It closed to visitors in 2004 and is now an outdoor education activity centre.

Key Information

Sector: Regenerative Design & Sustainability, Community 

Client: The Earth Centre

Location: Yorkshire

Completion: August 1999

Size: 0sqm

Sustainability meets aesthetics and demonstrates it can provide all the elements of good architecture.

RIBA Awards Judges

The power of the sun

Making a significant statement at the main entrance to the Earth Centre, we integrated a low energy building with a highly visible solar generator that emphasised the importance of on-site electricity generation using photovoltaics as a way of reducing dependency on fossil fuels and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Solar Canopy is a distorted timber space frame constructed using round wood poles of indigenous softwood with galvanised steel connectors.  The elaborate geometry created by the trapezoidal frame that supports the solar array and the almost random supporting posts forms a dynamic contrast with the purity and simplicity of the adjacent building forms.

It was, on completion, the biggest array of photovoltaic cells in the UK. The cells are spaced 4mm apart with a 60mm space round the edge so that approximately 25% of the daylight striking the canopy will penetrate through it. The canopy is welcomes visitors and connects the restaurant building with the Planet Earth Galleries which are built into the earth.

Earth Centre Solar Canopy


Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Structural Engineer
Atelier Ten
Landscape Architects
Grant Associates
Cost Consultant
Main Contractor
Bovis Construction / Taylor Woodrow
Construction Carpenter
Oak and Woodland
Environmental Engineer
Dennis Gilbert / VIEW Pictures


RIBA Award