national wild flower centre

The brief for the new facilities proposed by the National Wildflower Centre stated a clear division between public areas and operational areas but for us these two aspects could not be separated. The main activities within the walled garden of the National Wildflower Centre were the exhibition of flowers and the vast area of pot-plant and seed production, and regardless of the levels of accessibility to them, a visitor to our building would experience, in a subtle way, the activity of staff in the production area. This represented an essential element of the overall complex. With this in mind, we avoided the programmatic stratification of the building where the production areas were simply hidden away on the roof.

The existing 19th Century garden plays a defining roll both in the heritage of the site and the procession around the site. We have thought it important to recover the perception and its accessibility.

While the enclosed smaller spaces relating to the production area are located in a cost effective, simple timber-structure building outside the walled garden, the pot-plant production develops on the first level, in a surface parallel to the long side of the garden wall and above the functions of the ground floor; classrooms, contemplation room, exhibition gallery, conference space and support areas. Considering that the most intense use of the premises happens during the warmer months of the year, the functions mentioned above are grouped and act as buildings within the building, with the consequent possibility to be heated only when needed and allowing the common spaces and circulations to be semi-opened, bringing the perception of the walled garden and production facilities inside the building. This situation allows the floor of the operation areas to be constructed as a metallic raster, which is left open where ever feasible, allowing the visitors to perceive the activities happening above: shadows and movement of the people working, the smell of the plants and the noise of the water falling.

The structure supporting the main production area is of cor-ten steel profiles, all the rest in timber. Highly insulated spaces like classrooms, conference and support areas are constructed with ‘thermo eco block’, a wood chip aggregate in concrete.

The Fibonacci façade, a large modulated screen providing shade to the pot plant production area and giving the ensemble a characteristic appearance and is built up from a simple wooden structure and fins, attached to a galvanised steel frame, with the timber elements spaced according to the Fibonacci sequence. The wood would be brushed and stain so it will age in different ways, creating a dynamic, colour changing façade.