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heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower



Heatherwick Studio and the National Trust have unveiled a kinetic Glasshouse at the Woolbeding Gardens. Set on the edge of the historic estate in West Sussex, the unfolding structure acts as the focal point of a new garden, highlighting how much the ancient Silk Route has influenced English gardens of today.


Heatherwick’s kinetic Glasshouse features ten steel ‘sepals’ with glass and aluminum façade which take four minutes to open, creating an immense crown-shaped 141m2 space hosting subtropical plants — the only ones in the garden that need protection.

heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower
images by Hufton + Crow unless otherwise noted




The latest contemporary addition to the Woolbeding Gardens is a Silk Route Garden that invites visitors on a 12-step journey through a landscape influenced by the ancient trading route between Asia and Europe. This route provided exchanged commodities such as silk, as well as plant species new to Britain like rosemary, lavender and fennel. The path allows visitors to move through over 300 species and concludes in the Glasshouse.


Heatherwick’s Glasshouse references the movement of a flower opening its petals with its 10-sided pyramidal shape unfolding to create an immense space in the shape of a crown. By deploying cutting-edge engineering, it provides a functional and protective structure for the subtropical trees and shrubs housed inside. On warm days, the Glasshouse opens its ‘sepals’ using a hydraulic mechanism to allow the plants access to sunshine and ventilation while in colder weather, the structure remains closed providing shelter to the species. 

heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower


‘This is a place and a project that literally unfolds,’ said Thomas Heatherwick. ‘You step through this bewitchingly beautiful garden and discover an object that starts like a jewel and ends like a crown, as the Glasshouse slowly unfurls. I think it also speaks of our need to keep creating amazing pasts. Weaving contemporary inventions into the fabric of historic settings and having the confidence to let each one speak to the other.’

heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower


The Glasshouse itself shelters an impressive, rare specimen of an Aralia Vietnamensis which provides shade for a collection of tender ferns growing alongside umbrella trees, magnolias and bananas.



image by Raquel Diniz


‘This Heatherwick Glasshouse represents the cutting edge of technical design and engineering but it’s also a restoration of something that is part of Woolbeding’s history,’ concluded Mark Woodruff of The Woolbeding Charity. ‘It stands as a crowning achievement in contemporary design, to house the flora of subtropical south-west China at the end of a path retracing the steps along the Silk Route, from temperate Europe and across mountains, arid lands and high pastures that brought the plants from their native habitat in Asia to come to define much of the richness and glory of gardening in England.’

heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower
image by Raquel Diniz

heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower heatherwick studio's kinetic glasshouse unfolds like a flower


project info:


name: Glasshouse

architect: Heatherwick Studio

location: Wooldbeding Gardens, West Sussex, UK

in collaboration with: The Woolbeding Charity, The National Trust
cost consultant and contract administrator: Core Five
landscape architects: MRG Studio
environmental engineer: Atelier Ten Ltd
structural and façade engineer: Eckersley O’Callaghan Ltd
project management: Stuart A Johnson Consulting Ltd
CDM: Goddard Consulting
glasshouse detailed engineering design and construction: Bellapart
habitat and garden design consultant: great dixter charitable trust
main contractor: RW Armstrong
contractor’s design architect: Kirkwood Mclean Architects
moving structure specialist: Eadon Consulting Ltd

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