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Cullinan Studio-masterplanned learning hub at RHS Hyde Hall completed

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The £4.25 million hilltop complex redevelopment consists of a learning centre, multipurpose event space and restaurant, housed in two new buildings

Once a working farmstead for the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Garden Hyde Hall in Chelmsford, Essex, the complex is now a hub for learning about gardens and opened to the public last year.

The garden at Hyde Hall had been evolving over 25 years but the need arose for a dedicated education facility, multipurpose event space and a restaurant. Cullinan Studio was originally commissioned to create a learning centre but, after masterplanning the whole hilltop complex, they developed two new buildings to accomodate the extra spaces: the Clore Learning Centre and the Hilltop Lodge.

The complex has been designed as a pair of buildings enclosing courtyards and has been opened up to the landscape. Both have glulam timber structures, zinc cladding, brick, and timber boarding to withstand the exposed context of the site and blend in with their surroundings. The profile and colour of the roofscapes have been designed to be silhouetted against the sky.

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The complex was delivered by design and build contractor Brooks and Woods with Concertus Design and Property Consultants providing the architectural and technical design post-concept stage.

The Clore Learning Centre is a new single-storey barn, distinguished from Hilltop Lodge by a black zine roof with four steep serrated pitches. The roof sits on top of red brick wings enclosing a sheltered west-facing teaching garden. Inside, a moveable wall allows the open floor plan to be divided into two smaller, intimate classrooms if needed.

The Hilltop Lodge is the larger building out of the two on the site, oak clad with red zinc-clad roofs and ridge lanterns. The floor plan is U-shaped, opening onto a courtyard with two barns flanking either side, housing the restaurant and a multipurpose event space. Inside, feature glulam timber columns and beams support the ceiling.

Additional sustainable features have been included such as rainwater harvesting, photovoltaic panels, natural ventilation and low-energy light fittings.

The Essex hilltop complex buildings form part of a wider investment programme by the society to improve education facilities and visitor experience across all of its now five sites. Work started earlier this year on a science and public engagement hub for the RHS in Surry, designed by WilkinsonEyre. Hodder + Partners two years ago revealed images of its design for the new RHS Garden Bridgewater near Salford in the North West, the society’s fifth national garden. Back in 2013 Carmody Groarke landed the job of overhauling RHS HQ, the Grade II-listed Lindley Hall in Vincent Square, central London.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall is the charity’s largest site, encompassing 136ha of picturesque landscape.

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Architect’s view

Every project has a wider context, and through our work on significant garden estates over the years we have learned that the seamless integration of buildings with their immediate landscape and heritage is fundamental to success. At Hyde Hall we imagined these precise roof forms silhouetted against the sky, rising out of lush gardens and enticing you to walk up the hill. Once at the hilltop, you arrive at a garden framed by buildings which offer refuge and prospect. Each building plays a part in fulfilling a larger ambition to create a very special place that will leave a lasting impression. Hyde Hall is a magical garden and we are proud to have been able to help the RHS realise their vision.

Carol Costello, architect, Cullinan Studio

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Client’s view

The completion of this key investment project has totally transformed RHS Garden Hyde Hall from its humble beginnings as a farm. Visitors can enjoy a truly inspirational garden along with a fantastic new dining experience, and schools can learn in an environment that will nurture a passion for horticulture and gardening.

Ian Le Gros, head of site, RHS Garden Hyde Hall

We are very proud of our new Learning Centre, it looks amazing and it’s such an adaptable and calming space to be in. It has made a huge difference to education at the garden because we now have a building that suits our needs and can be used all year round as a base for learning, for children and adults alike. It has helped us expand our programme and to reach new audiences, especially older pupils who have used the Learning Centre for art study days and, following on from this, transformed the Learning Centre into a gallery to display their work.

Jill Baker, head of education, RHS Garden Hyde Hall

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Garden designer’s view

The new hilltop buildings presented a great opportunity to bring the garden together and develop new spaces for visitors to enjoy. The buildings offered the chance to take lines and vistas into the surrounding garden, from the diagonal flooring seamlessly moving between inside and out, to the planting weaving right up to the windows. It was important that the buildings, with their strong architectural shape, would sit well in the landscape and the existing gardens they connect to. The developments of the former ‘farmyard’ area also needed to link into the wider garden, as well as turning the yard into a beautiful, but useable space.

Adam Frost, garden designer and RHS Ambassador

Rhsgardenhydehall floorplan

Project data 

Start on site May 2017
Completion date May 2018
Gross internal floor area 330m² (Clore Learning Centre), 764m² (Hilltop Lodge)
Form of contract or procurement route Design and build
Construction cost £4.25 million
Concept architect Cullinan Studio
Principal designer and contractor Brooks and Wood
Lead technical architect Concertus Design and Property Consultants
Client Royal Horticultural Society  
Structural engineer Smith and Wallwork, MLM (concept stage)
M&E consultant The Energy Practice (design and build delivery); Couch Perry Wilkes, EEP (concept stage)
QS Dudley Smith Partnership (design and build delivery); Jackson Coles (concept stage)
Landscape consultant Concertus Design and Property Consultants
Garden design Adam Frost
Project manager Dudley Smith Partnership
Planning consultant Boyer Planning 

Rhsgardenhydehall longsection

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