We have completed RHS Hilltop - The Home of Gardening Science

We are excited to have completed the UK’s first dedicated gardening science hub commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society for their Wisley site in Surrey. The ground-breaking new centre for horticultural science and learning showcases the RHS’s previously unseen scientific work and provides specialist facilities for ongoing research, helping to inspire the next generation of horticulturists and create a greener future for the UK.

Located on a hilltop site, the unique facility measures 4750sqm and provides state-of-the-art scientific laboratories, public exhibition space, teaching studios, an events hall and new facilities for the RHS’s nationally significant Herbarium, science and library collections. The building is surrounded by four acres of science gardens, or ‘living laboratories’. The newly landscaped gardens, designed by Matt Keightley and Ann-Marie Powell, comprise a health and wellbeing garden outside the main entrance, a west-facing world kitchen garden, and an east-facing wildlife garden.

Mature trees already on site frame the new building which has been sensitively sited to respect the rich horticultural context and legacy. A pair of two-storey distinct concrete and steel-framed wings splay into the different gardens, maximising visual connections between indoor and outdoor activity. The east wing is dedicated to the laboratories and library collections, while the west wing accommodates more public-facing facilities including education activities.

The internal and external materials palette balances the warmth of natural materials with the simplicity of exposed concrete and steel structural elements.  Both wings are clad in sustainably sourced and naturally weathering sweet chestnut timber, and the first-floor window frames protrude from the timber cladding to provide solar shading. The wings are connected by a double-height glazed public exhibition space, which features a pitched roof clad in standing seam metal, while an architectural cantilevered canopy marks the main entrance.

Geoff Turner, Associate Director at WilkinsonEyre said: “The new centre is designed to integrate with the working gardens and provide a central hub for the scientific community based at RHS Garden Wisley and the million plus visitors that come each year. We hope it provides optimum facilities or the vital work taking place and inspires even greater public engagement with the world of horticultural science and its importance for a greener future.” 

Already one of the UK’s most visited gardens, the new centre takes the visitor experience at RHS Garden Wisley to the next level. Seventy RHS scientists and students are now based at the trailblazing lab facilities, and visitors and school children can watch live experiments as they happen and speak directly to scientists about their work. Vast collections of dried plants, insects, books and art that date back more than five centuries provide the most complete record of the UK’s horticultural heritage are also being displayed at the centre for the first time.

Following lockdowns imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the announcement of a climate emergency, RHS Hilltop opens at a time when the public interest in gardening is at an all-time high, and the research taking place at the centre addresses some of today’s biggest challenges, including the best plants to soak up pollution, ease localised flooding, capture carbon and cool cities. It also addresses how gardening can be used to boost wellbeing and is designed to inspire visitors to incorporate new ideas into gardens at home, in schools and in communities. 

Images ©RHS