Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Great Design

Connecting old and new buildings together can be a very tricky thing to pull off. I have seen, as I am sure you have to, many failed attempts of this popping up all over the UK. To achieve a successful integration of these two contrasting types of structures requires a very considerate design. In my opinion, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Hampshire, designed by the Heatherwick Studio, is a great example of how to do it well.


The founder of the Heatherwick Studio, Thomas Heatherwick, is considered to be one of Britain’s most significant designers. He has been a part of many well known projects such as the New Routemaster bus and Rolling Bridge in London as well as projects further a field such as the Seed Cathedral in Shanghai. Heatherwick is known for his controversial design approach which has in some cases not been successful. For example, ‘B of the Bang’ which was a sculpture in Manchester had to be taken down when it started to fall apart and the Garden Bridge proposal (a pedestrian bridge over the River Thames) which was abandoned in 2017 after £37.4m of taxpayers money had all ready been spent.

However, on a more positive note, The Bombay Sapphire Distillery is one of my favourite Heatherwick projects. In 2010, Bombay Sapphire invited Heatherwick to design their headquarters, distillery and visitor centre. The project consisted of the renovation of a collection of derelict red brick buildings at Laverstoke Mill and the addition of glasshouses to host the plants that flavour the premium gin. The original buildings had been built up over 200 years, resulting in a sprawling maze covering the river below. In order to create a more simplified site, Heatherwick focussed on revealing the river once more and using it’s path to organise the layout. Although all of the grade 2 buildings were conserved, others were removed to allow the countryside views to be seen even from the heart of the site – depicted by a central courtyard. I think this is a lovely approach as it’s important to encompass a building’s surrounding scenery so that it is appreciated from various vantage points around the site.


I am focussing on the main focal point of the project which is the sculptural glasshouses that appear to ‘grow’ out of the red stone buildings. The structures remind me of something you would see in a sci-fi film, but for some reason they seem to integrate really well with the older buildings that surround them. There are 2 separate glasshouses, one for tropical plants and the other for mediterranean plants, which allow the key botanical ingredients required for the gin to be grown on site. The glasshouses are constructed from 893 individually crafted pieces that are held in place by bronze-finished stainless steel framing with a total length of over a kilometre. According to Heatherwick, these unique structures are inspired from the “ambition and energy that the Georgians and Victorians had” who were responsible for the surrounding buildings. There is definitely an energy to these structures, the dynamic frames create a sense of movement. I really like how Heatherwick has considered the history of the site and has used this to influence the design of the glasshouses.

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What is really special about the design of these glasshouses is the fact that there is a strong emphasis on not only how sustainable the distilling process is but also the glasshouses themselves. Heatherwick worked with the Carbon Trust to include a number of sustainable design features that have resulted in the botanical distillery being the first facility in the drinks manufacturing industry to be awarded a BREEAM ‘outstanding’ rating for sustainability. The glasshouses are heated using hot air from the distillation process that is channeled from the older building through large pipes that are built into the metal framing. Heatherwick describes the link between the older building and the glasshouses as an “umbilical connection” which I think is really lovely analysis as the heat from the distillery is feeding in to the warm climate that is required for the plants to grow. The structures also have built in photovoltaic cells (solar cels) and a water turbine to generate electricity to provide power to the site. Electricity is also a generated using a biomass boiler which recycles the plant waste from the glasshouses. I really appreciate the circular approach that has been made when designing the site, using the sun, river and plants to provide power. 


The self-sufficiency of the distillery is really clever and I love how Heatherwick has considered what opportunities there are from the distilling process to create an energy cycle. There’s something special about integrating a modern structure into a historic site which not only embraces the past but has an emphasis on the future as well. The glasshouses are not just a beautiful sculpture but also very practical and have some clever engineering incorporated into them. This site represents the fact that we shouldn’t forget our past but we should learn from it and make the necessary changes to create something that is not only pleasing to look at but also has a minimum carbon footprint and the ability to provide for itself.

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