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Bringing heritage buildings into the modern era

Sustainability By Julian Sutherland, Partner, Building Services – 13 December 2022

Kew Gardens Palm House glass building in background with a blue sky and lake in the front


Julian Sutherland

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The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew Palm House project is a career- defining project. The challenge of decarbonising a Victorian glasshouse is exciting and comes with a huge responsibility to respect the heritage aspects of the building. These projects often only appear once in a career, but I have been fortunate to be involved in a number of major historical building projects. These include the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Mint Court and 10 Piccadilly on the edge of Piccadilly Circus.

We worked very closely with the client to bring together a world-leading design team with a diverse range of skills, but most importantly a passion to innovate, collaborate and respect the building.

We took a ‘no silly questions approach’ to developing solutions for the project. We challenged every aspect of the current building, what we thought we knew as construction professionals, searched far and wide for best practice in glasshouse design, as well as mapping all solutions and decisions against operational and embodied carbon impacts.

We worked closely with the botanists, gardeners and executive team at Royal Botanic Gardens to understand the conditions required by the plants, the implications of adjusting conditions and how we could reduce energy consumption.

In the background, a historic context study was undertaken looking at both the building and the services through the ages and previous refurbishments. This produced a fascinating historical record of Victorian engineering over the ages and informed the proposals going forward.

There are other elements to the project, including the Lily House and the Victoria Gate visitor entrance. The existing Victoria Gate building is a key part of the visitor experience, and we plan to bring our Passivhaus and building performance expertise to bear, creating a modern, low carbon and high-quality facility for years to come.

The project will be a labour of love for the team and one which I am sure we will all be very proud of.

We want to share our journey and hope you enjoy the ongoing blogs from the team.