The Bombay Sapphire Distillery By Heatherwick Studio
11th April 2015Nestled in the quiet leafy village of Laverstoke is an architectural gem from the studio of world famous architect Thomas Heatherwick. Completed in 2014, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is a part industrial factory, part surreal public experience. Since I live close to this complex, I chose to study it for a piece of university coursework which you can read here. When visiting the distillery, I was astounded by the detailed consideration that the studio had applied to every aspect of the project.
The main entrance. Photo by Barney SheppardUpon entering the site, the picturesque complex reveals itself, with the River Test flowing through the site and under one of the large brick buildings. The site was originally a mill, and has a rich history that dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086. It was predominantly used to produce banknotes for a number of nations, and was so prestigious that royalty visited the mill multiple times.
Sustainable power generation. Photo by Barney SheppardAfter wandering inside, you are first greeted with a visible section of a hydroelectric turbine. This immediately establishes the company’s drive for sustainability, along with a number of other systems that are mentioned around the rest of the site. A meter showing how much energy is being produced by the turbine is on the wall, its vintage styling a sign of things to come.
The main courtyard. Photo by Barney Sheppard One of the plaques. Photo by Barney SheppardThe maze of historical buildings that have been built up over a century have been opened up by Heatherwick Studio, creating an idyllic central courtyard that is awash with plaques explaining previous building uses, and contains the centrepiece of the complex in the form of two fantastical glasshouses. The studio made a conscious effort to retain as many of the original buildings as possible, and through extensive repair and refurbishment they were able to keep over half of the original buildings. Since the site had been derelict for a number of years before being acquired, a lot of the buildings were missing sections and in a bad way. The repairs contains new bricks that sit alongside the old ones in a charming mismatch. With such variety, the walls are engaging to study, with ghosts of extensions and windows etched onto the facades. This conscious decision also helps to break up the consistent use of brick throughout the complex.
The two botanical greenhouses. Photo by Barney Sheppard Glasshouse junction with the River Test. Photo by Barney Sheppard Glasshouse interior. Photo by Barney SheppardThe exception to the use of brick is in the modern Tropical and Mediterranean glasshouses. They emerge in the form of copper tentacles from one of the distilling rooms, that eventually bed into the River Test after taking a winding and twisting path. Over 10,000 bespoke components were used to create the glasshouses, and every pane of glass is unique. The glasshouses are a striking addition to the complex that adds a modern and stunning contrast to the historic buildings. However, they do not only provide an aesthetic effect. Botanicals used in Bombay Sapphire are grown in the glasshouses, and since the public can enter them the company use kindles and plaques to educate visitors about each botanical.
The style of Heatherwick Studio’s creation is surreal. Copper features heavily, and since the complex was a Victorian paper mill you can’t help but feel you’re in a dreamy, vintage Willy Wonka style factory. This creative appearance is used throughout the site, with copper listening pods which poke out of the walls, gleaming copper stills and pipes running around the rooms, and scientific glass bulbs that you’d expect to see in a lab containing the aromas of each ingredient in the drink.
Despite the distinct vintage style, the complex contains cutting edge sustainable technology. Justifiably, the company boast that they keep and reuse 90% of their waste on site, with a view to increasing that to 95% in the next decade. To do this, innovative solutions have been imagined. Potash fertiliser, a waste product of the distilling process, is sold in local shops, and waste heat from the stills is used to keep the glasshouses up to temperature. The complex also makes use of rainwater harvesting, and has photovoltaic panels on the roof. These technologies have reduced carbon emissions by 40%, and contributed to the project being awarded a BREEAM Outstanding rating, the first refurbishment and distillery in the world to achieve this rating. The distillery was also won the Industrial BREEAM award in 2014, an international competition.
I was apprehensive before visiting the Bombay Sapphire Distillery that Heatherwick Studio would not have been able to apply suitable craft and sensitivity to their site in a quiet, rural location. However I was taken aback by the firm’s creativity in all aspects of the project, from sustainability to aesthetics to heritage. Viewing the distillery has confirmed in my mind that Heatherwick’s starchitect status is justified. I can learn a lot from him, and I must aim to emulate his obsessive consideration in my own projects to hopefully produce sensitive yet equally astounding results.