by Don Barker
Continuing a tradition of innovative structures at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in West London is the new Davies Alpine House by Wilkinson Eyre Architects. It is the first glasshouse to be constructed at the World Heritage Site for over 20 years and is a showcase of design and engineering, specially conditioned to support an alpine ecology.
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The building is much smaller than its famous neighbor, the Palm House, but this in no way detracts from the Alpine House's uniqueness and beauty. Wilkinson Eyre were asked to design the new structure after having been involved with a Site Development Plan for Kew Gardens over the past several years.
The structure that had previously housed the garden's alpine plant collection, although open to the public, was poorly located, nearly hidden behind research laboratories and back-of-house nurseries. It was also ill-equipped for the technical growing requirements of alpine plants and during the summer could reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Centigrade).
Alpine plants require special conditions, simulating the bright, dry climate of their native environment. Alpine species grow above tree line on mountain ranges throughout the world, from the arctic to the tropics. Their sensitivity to climate change puts them at risk in the wild and makes them a challenge to cultivate.
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The new Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in West London, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects.
Photo: Don Barker
Internal "sails" provide shading to simulate an alpine ecology.
Photo: Don Barker
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