If you’ve visited the garden at RHS Wisley, near Woking in Surrey, this year you can’t help but have noticed all the building work that’s been going on. Large areas have been cordoned off and every visit has been accompanied by the sound of large earth-moving machinery working away.
There has been a huge effort made to keep people involved with the project and large pictures and information boards are everywhere. There have been few solid screens obscuring the view of the work in progress and those that did need to be there were printed with an attractive brick wall pattern that made them blend into the background. Models of the new buildings have been on show in a glass-sided cabin designed to let visitors see the building site and keep up-to-date with the work.
Now the first stage of the work is over and the buildings have been handed over from the construction to the site crew to continue completion. This week, we were invited to have a tour round inside the newly-finished welcome centre with Andy Jasper (Programme Director) to see how it looks. The architects from KSS Group were on site for the handover and were pleased with how it had come together. Nick Marshall (Director), David Rollason (Associate Director) and Jason Guthridge (Architect) intended the building to feel light, warm and welcoming, using English oak and red bricks to mirror the existing buildings at Wisley. Big windows in the pitched roof let in lots of light and give a light, airy feel.
Although it is actually one large space inside, the new centre has been divided into separate areas using walls and pillars. Part will be the entrance, with electronic scanners to speed entry into the garden, part a new 5000 sq.m plant shop, part the new gift shop and part 200-seat café. The existing gift shop will be demolished eventually, to open up the view of the Laboratory building and there will be an increased emphasis on RHS own-brand ranges and gifts. The new café and nearby 150-seat restaurant are designed to provide visitors with whichever level of refreshment they prefer, and the restaurant can also accommodate a wedding reception. State-of-the-art toilets will use water captured from the car park and the ratio of female-to-male toilets (75% female) has been changed to reflect visitor numbers. The site will provide not only for wheelchair users and babies, but also a 12 sq.m Changing Places area (only the 71st in the country) for disabled adults.
The entire site has been “future-proofed” to last for many years and is as good behind the scenes as in the public areas. Staff areas, stockroom and offices have all been improved and there are new conference areas of different sizes to cater for the many committees that are a necessary part of the horticultural side of the RHS.
The Grand Opening of the new Welcome Centre should be in May 2019, although the exact date has not yet been set. By then, all the fittings, displays, gifts and plants will be in place and it will be much more difficult to appreciate the wide open space that you see now. If you visit Wisley before then, do take a look at how everything is progressing and then have a look on here next spring to see our update on what to expect when you see the inside for yourself.
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