Tuesday22 August 2017

The gilded palace of gin

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Heatherwick Studio’s new state-of-the-art Bombay Sapphire Distillery assaults the senses in every way, says Amanda Birch


Heatherwick Studio's Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Source: Iwan Baan

Heatherwick Studio’s Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Approaching the reconfigured and restored factory at Laverstock Mill in Hampshire, the sparkling clear waters and lush green banks of the River Test provide a tranquil setting for the mill’s elegant red-brick Victorian buildings. Passing into the Botanical Dry Room, the exotic dried ingredients used to make the gin can be smelt, touched and even tasted. Then entering the Dakin still house, there’s a strong aroma of alcohol fumes. Moving into the restored Mill Bar, appetite whetted, the end product can be sampled as a stiff gin and tonic.

But the biggest impact is reserved for the distillery’s two modern glasshouses that rear dramatically up from the bed of the River Test, which has been specially widened to accommodate them. As well as providing a cutting-edge contrast to the surrounding historic buildings, the spectacular structures showcase the 10 exotic plant species or ‘botanicals’ used in the Bombay Sapphire distillation process.

From October 1 and for a fee, inquisitive members of the public will be able to see for themselves the company’s first in-house multi-million pound production facility when it officially opens.

Source: Squint Opera

Squint Opera's visualisation of Heatherwick Studio's Bombay Sapphire distillery

The 2ha site is located in idyllic countryside near the small north Hampshire town of Whitchurch. The land was once owned by the Portal family, who between 1719 and 1763 operated Laverstock Mill, which at one point manufactured banknote paper for the Bank of England. A corn mill that once occupied the site was even recorded in the Doomsday Book.

The regenerated site, which lies within a Conservation Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest, is the result of Heatherwick’s bold masterplan. The project has involved the demolition of 23 buildings, lean-to additions and outbuildings that had largely obscured the principal Victorian buildings, creating a more coherent and open layout. Twenty-one existing buildings, including three that are grade II listed, have been refurbished as part of the scheme.


Bombay Sapphire Heatherwick

Source: Heatherwick Studio

The glasshouse section


“When we first visited the site in 2010, it was this confused mass of over 40 closely-grouped buildings,” says Eliot Postma project architect at Heatherwick’s. “By assessing which buildings we could remove, we have reinstated some of the Victorian charm the site had in the 1930s and 1940s”.

The studio decided to make the River Test, which runs right through the centre of the site, the focus of their proposal. In spite at the time being almost invisible and contained within a high-sided concrete channel, Postma says the river was still “extraordinarily beautiful.”

They widened the river and restored its banks, then placed in it the two huge glasshouses, plunging the structures’ twisted necks into the façade of the Dakin still house situated nearby.

Also designed by Heatherwick’s and engineered by Arup, the structures consist of a larger glasshouse, 15m tall x 12m diameter, containing plants of a Mediterranean climate. Its smaller 11m tall x 9m diameter twin, has tropical plants.

In plan, the structure’s glass zig-zags in and out. Inside the glasshouses themselves, standing on a centrally placed raised concrete and steel mesh platform, visitors can view the flora that wrap around the sides. The experience is not that dissimilar from being in a glasshouse at Kew Gardens, although a revisit when the plants are more established would be good. 

“Part of our inspiration for the glasshouse design is marrying the history of the brand and the history of the site with traditional Victorian glass houses typically seen in England. They also showcase the brand’s future and the client’s love of glass and design,” says Postma.

In a nod to the elegance and ingenuity of the Victorian glasshouse, these contemporary structures employ stainless steel mullions and glass panels. Like their Victorian counterparts, the glass and steel interact perfectly. The steel elements not only connect the glass together, but also transfer the forces from one panel of glass to another.

Graham Dodd, director of materials at Arup, says: “We felt we had reached a point where we could justify the calculations and model the structures on the computer to build the glass structures that the Victorians did. These glasshouses go way beyond that and have only been possible with modern glass technology of bending toughened and high strength inter layers. Not only are the steel and glass inter-dependent but the buckling analysis of the curved twisting mullions is based on recently developed design rules and required very complex computer modelling.”

The form of the glasshouses was also inspired by its connection to the unique distilling process employed by Bombay Sapphire where the alcohol is allowed to evaporate and then condense. The bowl-shaped bases and swan-like necks of the historic Dakin copper stills, housed in the still house, are reflected in the form of the glasshouses.

Again here, air flow is the primary driver. Excess heat generated from the facility’s biomass boiler during the distillation process is stored in two hot water tanks located in the botanical store. When heat is needed, warm air is drawn from the tanks into the glasshouses at their base. This air rises, and is then let out through the openings in the glasshouse necks and into a plenum located in the Dakin still house. The air is finally expelled via louvres positioned at the top of the Dakin building. This sustainable method of heating the glasshouses helped the distillery achieve a BREEAM ‘outstanding’ rating, making it both the first industrial building and refurbishment project to be awarded this accolade.

Given that the glasshouses stand in the river bed, they appear to have no visible base, making it look like the plants inside are growing out of the river. However the structures rest on waterproofed foundations, consisting of a concrete circular pad and concrete piles extending deeply into the river bed. The lowest section of the glasshouse structure employs metal panels, with the glass beginning from the water level. This allows the water to lap over the lower part of the glasshouse.

From the water level up, the glasshouses employ an extraordinary pleated glass skin. At the base, the glass panels extend vertically upwards and then become cylindrical. Towards the top, the glass twists and rolls, tapering at the structures neck. Each of the 793 individual glass panels – comprising two 6mm layers of glass and a 1.5mm Sentry Glass interlayer - used for the two glasshouses are unique with most of the panels curved and toughened for strength and laminated.

But a handful of the panels, mainly used around the structures complex, neck sections, are an unusual J-shape. These panels are not structural so the glass isn’t toughened, but they have been chemically strengthened. Also, the humidity of the Tropical Glasshouse will result in some condensation. To ensure the condensation clears and transparency is maintained, a hydrophobic coating has been applied to the glass.

Assembling the glasshouses took a year to complete. The bronze-coloured stainless steel structure was bolted together over a few weeks, while the fitting of the glass elements took longer. The curved panels had to be cold bent on site and involved the panels being pushed and pulled to fit and interact with the steel. The panels were also silicon sealed and locked into place with high strength resin grout. An aluminium, shallow cover plate was clamped over the steel mullions on the outside to conceal the bolts and connections.

“This is by far the most complex and challenging glass project I’ve ever worked on because the geometry is so strange,” says Dodd. “But the project has given us great confidence to do more of these structures because we’ve worked out a new technique and we now have a platform to raise expectations and see what else we can do. I think there will be a lot of scope of applying this technique to other glass structures.”


Heatherwick Studio's Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Source: Iwan Baan

Heatherwick Studio’s Bombay Sapphire Distillery


Project Team

Client Bombay Spirits Company

Lead designer Heatherwick Studio

Executive architect GWP Architects

Glasshouse structural engineer Arup

Glasshouse contractor Bellapart Group

Main glass supplier for glasshouses Cricursa

Glass supplier for chemically strengthened glass panels Sunglass srl

Landscape architect GWP Architects

Mechanical and electrical engineer Couch Perry Wilkes

Civil and structural engineer Graham Schofield Associates




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