Founded in 1853, the Herbarium, Library & Archives building at London's luscious Kew Gardens is the world's leading center for the study of plant diversity. Since opening more than a century ago, the original building has housed a botanic library and dried plant specimens. Only recently did a need to expand the space come about, calling for a new sustainable environment that could protect the building's precious contents from fire, flood, humidity and infestation. Edward Cullinan Architects were called for the job, and the team created a new, three-story wing made from glass and locally sourced timber. Beyond being beautiful, the sustainable systems employed in both heating and cooling the building have garnered it some noteworthy green cred, including a BREEAM 'Excellent' mark.
Completed in 2009, the Herbarium’s new glass and timber wing creates a fantastic contrast with the original red-bricked building, connected to its side. Edward Cullinan Architects worked closely with the botanists, librarians and staff to ensure that the design would meet the requirements of a highly specific technical brief. The RIBA Award winning building provides a reading room, research areas, storage vaults and a photo studio to aid digitalization of the collections.
The new Herbarium is a three-story brick clad vault enclosed by an undulating glass and wooden facade made from Western Red Cedar sourced sustainably from nearby Sussex. The dried plant specimens are stored in a cool, dark vault, and are examined by scientists in naturally day-lit rooms. As a World Heritage Site, a funding criteria was that the collection remain open to the public to allow visitors to enjoy Kew’s priceless collection of dried plant specimens, botanic books and illustrations.
To match the exterior with the interior design, the circular Reading Room’s furniture was created using bespoke joinery and the tables boast integrated lighting and IT connections.
However, the key sustainable feature the building maintains is the innovative way it produces cool and hot air. The primary heating and cooling source for the whole building is provided through a bore hole based ground-source heat pump that takes renewable energy from the underground. This detail has earned the new structure a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ title.
Photo © Ana Lisa Alperovich for Inhabitat / Tim Soar