The Savill Building
Wick Lane
Englefield Green
Surrey TW20 0UU

Glen Howells Architects 2006

The Savill Building is a gateway into the Savill Garden, a man-made garden in a corner of Windsor Great Park, and houses admissions, restaurant and a large gift and plant shop. The building is dominated by its undulating roof, which both symbolizes the landscape and exemplifies a sustainable structure, built from larch and oak forested from within Windsor Great Park.

Despite the grandeur of the entranceway, the building keeps a low profile, nestling into earth banks that have been built up on the outside (eastern) approach to the building. Inside, the bathrooms, kitchens and other services are built into these banks, so there is no 'back' to the building, and the mains space and glass curtain wall into the garden are uncluttered.

The gridshell construction, around three domed spaces, provides a single space 100 meters long and rising to 10 meters high under the central dome. The roof is supported by a steel beam running around the perimeter, held up on the garden side by angled steel legs.

Guiding you through this large space as you enter are two curved, Corian pavilions – an exhibition pavilion and a ticket office. The smooth, synthetic surface of these pavilions contrasts unashamedly with the natural wood ceiling, as you are swept between the two convex shapes like air between the wings of an biplane, straight outthrough the glass wall opposite (with no enforced detours through the gift shop) and into the garden beyond.

On the garden side, the building sits at the top of hill with commanding views down into the garden, and a glazed, more open facade welcoming you on your return.

The gridshell roof is inspired by the efficient strength of a sea-shell, where the structure is concentrated in strips without need for massive material in between. In this case the core of the roof structure is a meter-square grid of larch. Identical, straight, larch timbers were deformed in situ to make up the required shape of the roof, by attaching them to scaffolding adjusted to the right height with jacks at 200 different points. Above this wooden structure, visible from below, is an aluminum-based layer for waterproofing and insulation, with oak cladding above.

A visitor center in a garden, particularly an informal garden such as the Savill Garden, is an architectural challenge. It is hard to conceive of a building that adds to the garden views, as opposed to just minimally disrupting them. But the wooden undulations of the Savill Building roof, at once natural and contemporary, achieves that goal.

Simon Glynn 2007 (updated 2011)

 


How to visit

The Savill Building is open daily. You need to pay admission to go into the garden, but the building itself is freely accessible.

The Savill Garden, to which the building is the entrance, is in the southeast corner of Windsor Great Park, signposted from the A30. For detailed opening times and travel directions please visit the Garden's web site at www.theroyallandscape.co.uk.

 

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