RHS Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science

Surrey, UK

The RHS Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science is 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.