Set alongside the banks of the River Test in Hampshire, England, the old derelict industrial site which had housed a paper mill, and at one time had a major role in the manufacture and printing of England’s bank notes, has been rescued by Bombay Sapphire for a new distillery and visitor centre. Key historic buildings have been refurbished, others have been demolished to create open spaces and the river has been cleaned and widened. New landscaping floats around the buildings along with a new car park.
To compliment the historic buildings, Thomas Heatherwick has designed a modern centrepiece of two connected glass houses that appear to float on the water of the river and contain botanical plants used in the creation and flavouring of gin, with a structure of glass and steel waves which rises up and appears to twist and turn into the old buildings at high level. The two separate structures provide a humid environment for spices which from the tropics and a dry temperate zone for Mediterranean plants.
Visitors are able to learn and experience how the gin is made, wander around the perfectly clean distillery and attend cocktail classes. There is a display of some of the cocktail glasses from Bombay Sapphire’s design competitions over the years, a shop and a café which spills out onto an open sitting area overlooking the river. Bombay Sapphire is hoping to attract 100,000 visitors a year to the new centre.
The project is a good example of sensitive, but honest, reuse of existing buildings where the interiors have been re-fashioned for their new uses, while keeping essential features such as the roof trusses and the old doors to the vaults where the bank-notes were once stored. New detailing is simple and reflects the industrial character of the complex while, externally, the buildings have been repaired but not restored, and thus they still retain the characteristic patina of age. In achieving a BREEAM Outstanding rating, the project shows that environmental and architectural sustainability can go hand in hand.
It is perhaps a little disappointing however to find that the water from the River Test is not used in the production process – water is shipped in from the previous site in order to maintain the characteristic flavour of the gin -, nor is bottling done on site as this is a noisy large scale industrial process, but apart from that Bombay Sapphire is to be congratulated in bringing this old industrial site back into use with refurbishment of the old, plus insertion of Thomas Heatherwick’s conservatories at the centre.