Bombay Sapphire distillery, Hampshire, by Thomas Heatherwick Studio

The polymath designer took inspiration from Britain's rich heritage of botanical structures for this unique gin distillery at Laverstoke, Hampshire

All photos: Iwan Baan

Inventor, artists, designer, Thomas Heatherwick seems able to turn his hand - and his extraordinary imagination - to anything, from a reinvention of London's classic Routemaster bus to the cauldron for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

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Now, the 'Leonardo da Vinci of our times' as he has been described has revealed his latest project, a distillery in Hampshire for fashionable gin brand Bombay Sapphire.

Photo: Iwan Baan

Like all of Heatherwick's projects, the new distillery, which doubles as a visitor centre for devotees of the brand, the project began with a problem, in this case How do you turn a paper mill into a gin distillery'.

Looking at the finished building, it appears Heatherwick has resolved his design problem with aplomb.

This is Bombay Sapphire's first dedicated distillery and headquarters, as the company previously operated from shared headquarters.
The initial brief asked Heatherwick Studio to design visitor centre that would be separate from the working distillery, but after visiting Bombay Sapphire's original distillery Heatherwick and his design team had other ideas:

'The initial master plan brief had also included the creation of a visitor centre,' says the studio. 'However on seeing the vapourdistillation process and the sculptural forms of the large copper gin stills, one of which is more than two hundred years old, webecame convinced that witnessing the authentic distillation process would be far more interesting and memorable for a visitor than any simulated visitor experience.

Photo: Iwan Baan

Inspired by Bombay Sapphire's distillation process - which involves infusing the gin with the vapours of ten tropical and Mediterranean herbs and spices - Heatherwick reaslised it would be possible to grow these 'botanicals' on site and this led them to explore the 'richBritish heritage of botanical glasshouse structures'.

The studio developed the idea of building two intertwining botanical glasshouses as a highlight of the central courtyard, one tropical and the other Mediterranean, to house and cultivate the ten plant species that give Bombay Sapphire gin its particularity.

Photo: Iwan Baan

According to the Studio: 'The resulting glasshouse structures spring from one of the historic mill buildings, now re-appropriated as a gin distillation hall, recycling the spare heat from the machinery to make the perfect growing conditions for tropical and mediterranean plants. The two glasshouses then embed themselves into the flowing waters of the newly-widened riverbed.

Working with a team from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew as horticultural collaborators, the ten exotic botanical plant types grow in the two structures alongside over a hundred additional plant and herb species that provide the accompanying ecosystem required to maintain them.

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