Nestled at the edge of National Trust’s Woolbeding Gardens, part of a historic estate in West Sussex, lies a majestic marriage of structural and horticultural design known as the kinetic Glasshouse. Created by British firm Heatherwick Studio, the Glasshouse emulates a Victorian terrarium with a pyramidal 10-sided form of glass and aluminum. In the span of four minutes this facade unfurls like a flower, much like the way sepals (the leaves protecting buds) unfold when flowers bloom.
When the weather is warm, the Glasshouse will open its sepals by relying on a hydraulic mechanism developed in conjunction with engineer Eckersley O’Callaghan. This process relies on liquid under pressure and movement in a confined space. When it opens, the jewel-like structure transforms to a 141-square-meter crown which proffers sunshine and ventilation to the subtropical plants within it. Conversely, when the weather is cold, the Glasshouse remains closed to shield its plants from unfavorable conditions and maintain a temperate environment.
The structure is the apex of Woolbeding’s new Silk Route Garden which pays tribute to historic trek between Asia and the Mediterranean and how it influenced English gardens. The garden’s landscape and winding path are accordingly informed by the 12 distinct regions along the Silk Route and their lush fauna. From the Mediterranean evergreens that house a rare variety of Mullein (or Verbascum thapsus) to the Gallica roses that were popularized in Europe courtesy of Persian traders, the garden flourishes with over 300 of plants that were notable to the route.
To walk along the curving 12-step path and emerge at the beguiling Glasshouse is to travel through history as told by abounding flowers and innovative architecture. Arriving at the garden’s crown jewel, the story culminates in the rare Aralia Vietnamensis, a tree species native to China and Vietnam. The structure also houses umbrella, magnolia and banana trees among ferns and shrubs that were introduced to Europe courtesy of the Silk Route.
“This is a place and a project that literally unfolds. You step through this bewitchingly beautiful garden and discover an object that starts like a jewel and ends like a crown, as the Glasshouse slowly unfurls,” the studio’s founder, Thomas Heatherwick, says in a statement. “I think it also speaks of our need to keep creating amazing pasts. Weaving contemporary inventions into the fabric of historic settings and having the confidence to let each one speak to the other.”
Hero image courtesy of Raquel Diniz for Heatherwick Studio