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Project: Heatherwick’s Laverstoke Mill glasshouses

Project: Heatherwick’s Laverstoke Mill glasshouses

Photo: Iwan Baan

Jodie Jones discovers how the two Willy Wonka-esque glasshouses at Bombay Sapphire’s distillery attraction were created

In 2010, Heatherwick Studios was commissioned by gin maker Bombay Sapphire to redevelop the site of a Victorian paper mill in Hampshire as the company’s new distillery. Laverstoke Mill opened to visitors in autumn 2014, and became the first refurbishment project in the world to achieve a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating, although more general interest has been garnered by the innovative design of its two central glasshouses.

Maximising a sense of heritage was key. The site once housed a mill producing paper for bank notes, but had fallen into disrepair. When Bombay Sapphire acquired the site, it included a number of Grade II listed buildings in over 40 different structures. Heatherwick Studio worked with English Heritage and English Nature to restore 23 historic buildings and remove nine more recent structures and an inferior bridge.

“We became conscious of not wanting to lose a sense of the evolution of the site, so wherever a modern dilapidated building leant against an older structure, we removed the modern addition but left its mark on the remaining building as a trace of where it had been,” says Thomas Heatherwick. The original brief included the creation of a visitors’ centre but, “we became convinced that witnessing the distillation process would be far more interesting than any simulated visitor experience.”

Photo: Iwan Baan

Environmental issues were considered from the outset. A chalk stream, the River Test, runs through the site, but before work started it was almost completely hidden within a steep-sided concrete channel. The decision was taken to widen the river and reshape its banks to form planted foreshores, thus increasing the diversity of flora and fauna as well as improving the appearance of the site.

“We also felt that the site’s new master plan would only work with the creation of a central courtyard as a gathering area and point of focus,” says Heatherwick. The hierarchy of space has now been comprehensively re-ordered, so that visitors cross a new bridge over the widened river on arrival, then walk alongside the enhanced waterside to the main production facility at the centre of the site.

Two extraordinary glasshouses form a focal point in the newly created main courtyard. “Bombay Sapphire gin is infused with the vapours of 10 tropical herbs and spices,” says Heatherwick. “This led us to think about growing these on the site, which in turn pointed us towards a rich British heritage of botanical glasshouse structures.”

It took the studio months to calculate, engineer and refine the glasshouses, which are linked to the northern still house and warmed by excess heat from the distillation process. The glasshouses provide two environments – tropical and Mediterranean – and house the 10 botanical ingredients, together with complementary plants selected by a team from RBG Kew. The structures are highly complex, and incorporate 893 individually-shaped, curved glass pieces within 1.25km of bronze-finished, stainless-steel frames. 

Photo: Iwan Baan

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