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Bombay Sapphire Distillery

The Bombay Sapphire Distillery and Process Buildings, at Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire, are linked and closely related existing buildings that have been subject to major refurbishment. This has transformed a former Victorian Paper Mill into the new home of Bombay Sapphire Gin, which includes a visitors’ centre and bar.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-06-Hufton-Crow-759x596 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

Located in rural Hampshire just 60 miles from London, Laverstoke Mill is a site steeped in natural beauty, sitting astride the crystal clear River Test and situated within a Conservation Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Laverstoke Mill also has a rich history: for nearly 250 years it produced high quality watermarked banknote paper for the Bank of England and the British Empire. The careful renovation of the historic buildings encompasses the highest standards in design, functionality and sustainability. The acclaimed London-based architecture and design practice Heatherwick Studio has intricately married the old and new, creating a state-of-the-art distillery for Bombay Sapphire in the historic buildings of Laverstoke Mill. The legacy of this ambitious project has created a home that Bombay Sapphire can be rightly proud of and provides the ideal setting to spark inspiration and stimulate the senses of every visitor to the distillery.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-09-Hufton-Crow-759x731 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

Guests will discover what makes Bombay Sapphire such a distinctive gin on their own terms and in their own time as they explore the distillery with an interactive map, providing guidance on this journey of self-discovery.

Visitors have the chance to uncover the unique Vapour Infusion process that gives Bombay Sapphire such a bright, fresh flavour in the Dakin Still House. Guests can also explore the ten botanicals nurtured in the stunning glasshouses designed by Heatherwick Studio and discover the aromas and unique flavour profile of each of the exotic botanicals in the Botanical Dry Room. There is also the opportunity to explore the rich history of both Laverstoke Mill and Bombay Sapphire within the Heritage Room and Gallery and then browse the limited editions of Bombay Sapphire and cocktail accessories in the Gin Shop. To complete the experience, guests are invited to enjoy a complimentary Bombay Sapphire cocktail in the Mill Bar or on the terrace next to the River Test.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-10-Hufton-Crow-759x716 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

  • Hampshire boasts a rich heritage, unspoilt coastline and beautiful countryside. One of the UK’s highlights for foodies, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery will be the jewel in the crown for visitors to the area from far and wide. There are a host of attractions to visit in the local area, including the historical town of Winchester, Downton Abbey’s Highclere castle, and the steam railway at Exbury Gardens. There are also a number of great places to stay for all budgets, including small local guesthouses and established fine hotels.
Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-12-Hufton-Crow-759x722 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

“As the particular flavours of Bombay Sapphire gin are derived from ten botanicals, the centrepiece of the site is a glass house, within which visitors will experience the specific horticultural specimens infused in the spirit. The glass house, influenced by Britain’s rich heritage of glass house structures, will be two separate structures providing both a humid environment for spices that originate from the tropics, as well as a dry temperate zone for Mediterranean plants. We are thrilled to have the chance to take this historic site, and turn it from its current derelict state into a new industrial facility with national significance.” – Heatherwick comments on the design

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-13-Hufton-Crow-759x851 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

“Sustainability is vitally important to Bombay Sapphire. It runs through all that we do, and has underpinned allof our plans for the distillery. As such, we were delighted to achieve an outstanding BREEAM design stage accreditation for the distillery process buildings. BREEAM has kept sustainability high up the agenda and has provided a benchmarking mechanism that feeds into our corporate sustainability policy and key performance indicators. Fundamentally, we also believe building such a sustainable distillery makes financial sense, increasing efficiency and long term operational energy and water use savings, which is why we are heating our glass houses using recovered heat from the distillery and using our spent botanicals to partially fuel our Biomass boiler.” – Nik Fordham, Master Distiller, The Bombay Spirits Company says

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-15-Hufton-Crow-759x701 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

Design Features:

  • Laverstoke Mill will become the new home for Bombay Sapphire Gin. Including the global distillery production plant it will also have a key visitor attraction venue.
  • The complex site, located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, included listed buildings within an existing conservation area. The SSSI River Test also cuts through the heart of the site.
  • Significant, but considered, demolition of part of the 40 plus existing buildings on the site were carefully concluded in response to the rural setting and existing buildings of merit identified to be retained.
  • The development is seeking to become a leading example of sustainable design and refurbishment, targeting a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating with the use of a range of on site generated renewable energy strategies including Biomass, Photovoltaics and Hydropower, having already being recognised at BREEAM ‘oustanding’ design stage.
  • The focal point of the scheme are two new botanical glasshouses designed by Thomas Heatherwick, which will feature one humid and one dry temperature interactive enclosures housing Bombay Sapphire’s unique range of 10 separate botanicals, used in the distillation process.
Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-18-Hufton-Crow-759x722 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

Heatherwick Studio:

How do you turn a paper mill into a gin distillery?

Ten years after winning a design prize from gin-maker Bombay Sapphire for a glass bridge idea, the studio was commissioned to lead the master plan and design of the company’s new distillery in the south of England.

Having previously operated from shared production facilities, this was to be Bombay Sapphire’s first dedicated distillery and headquarters and was an opportunity for the company to consolidate its manufacturing ability and improve efficiency.

The site in the village of Laverstoke straddles the River Test, one of England’s finest chalk streams. Originally operating as a corn mill, the land was acquired in 1718 by Henry Portal and developed for the manufacture of paper to produce the world’s bank notes. Over the following two centuries it grew into a sprawling industrial complex, including a series of Grade II listed buildings such as the mill owner’s house, the workers’ cottages and the main mill building. The result was an uncoordinated accumulation of over forty buildings which made the site chaotic and confusing to find your way around. Equally challenging, the River Test which runs through it had been narrowed and hidden within a steep-sided concrete channel making it almost impossible to perceive.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-20-Hufton-Crow-759x740 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Hufton & Crow

To bring clarity to such a disparate site it became obvious to us that it would not be enough to simply restore the existing historic buildings, but that we needed to reveal the River Test once more and to use it as a device around which to organise everything. We also felt that the site’s new master plan would only work with the creation of a central courtyard as a gathering area and a point of focus.

To turn these thoughts into reality we worked with government agencies English Heritage and English Nature to meticulously restore twenty-three of the existing historic buildings, to conserve the local wildlife and also to negotiate the removal of nine of the most recent industrial structures and a poor quality bridge. The other significant move was to substantially widen the river and reshape its banks to form sloping planted foreshores in order to make the water visible and valuable once more. Each careful decision to take away a building structure in turn gave space for the surrounding rich English countryside to be glimpsed again from the heart of the site. At the same time we became very conscious of not wanting to lose a sense of the evolution of the site. So wherever a modern dilapidated building leant against an older historic structure we removed the modern addition but left its mark on the remaining building fabric as a trace of where it had been. This selective process of de-cluttering the site was as necessary on the inside as on the outside.

The initial master plan brief had also included the creation of a visitor centre. However on seeing the vapour distillation process and the sculptural forms of the large copper gin stills, one of which is more than two hundred years old, we became convinced that witnessing the authentic distillation process would be far more interesting and memorable for a visitor than any simulated visitor experience. This production technique, that is different from those used by other gin distillers, is still carried out in accordance with a recipe devised in 1761 and involves infusing the gin with the vapours of ten tropical and mediterranean herbs and spices.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-25-Iwan-Baan-759x506 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Iwan Baan

This led us to think about growing these botanical herbs and spices on the site, which in turn pointed us towards a rich British heritage of botanical glasshouse structures. The Victorian curiosity and passion for the new science of horticulture had driven the creation of everything from the extraordinary palm house at Kew Gardens to the craze for Wardian cases, ornate indoor glasshouses for growing and displaying collections of exotic ferns and orchids. We wondered whether this could be the world’s first botanical distillery and whether we could let visitors see the real distillation process rather than having a separate visitor centre.

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. Excitingly, as the industrial vapour distillation process produces excess heat that otherwise has to be taken away, and as the creation of tropical and mediterranean climatic environments in the British context require additional heat, there was a potential virtuous circle if we could tie these two things together.

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.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-36-Heatherwick-Studio-759x505 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Heatherwick Studio

The resulting complex geometries of the new asymmetrical glasshouses took many months to calculate, engineer and refine. The finished built structures are made from eight hundred and ninety three individually-shaped two-dimensionally curved glass pieces held within more than one and a quarter kilometres of bronze-finished stainless steel frames. In their entirety the glasshouses are made from more than ten thousand bespoke components.

On arrival, visitors walk to the newly opened-up river, before crossing a bridge and making their way along the waterside to the main production facility located in the centre of the site facing into the courtyard and new glasshouses. Through careful restoration of the historical buildings, widening and revealing the River Test and the construction of a new gin factory system including new glasshouses, this project juxtaposes Laverstoke’s historical past with an interesting new future.

The distillery opened to the public in autumn 2014 and was awarded an ‘outstanding’ BREEAM rating for its design, making it both the first distillery and the first refurbishment project to have ever been awarded this rating.

Bombay-Sapphire-Distillery-By-Heatherwick-Studio-40-Iwan-Baan-800x1200 Bombay Sapphire Distillery / Heatherwick Studio

© Iwan Baan

Project Data:

Project name: Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Location: Laverstoke Mill London Road Whitchurch RG28 7NR, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 51.235170, -1.296876
Type: Factory / Manufactory
Site Area: 20,235 sqm
Project Area: 4,500 sqm
Status: Built
Completion Year: October 2014


  • 2014 – BREEAM Awards – Category: Industrial – rating: Outstanding – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Bacardi Martini / Bombay Spirits Company
Lead Designer: Heatherwick Studio – 356-364 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8BH, United Kingdom
Address: 356-364 Gray’s Inn Road, London, United Kingdom
Project Team: Thomas Heatherwick, Katerina Dionysopoulou, Eliot Postma, Alma Wang, Ville Saarikoski
Project Architect: GWP Architecture
Contract Manager: Meller
MEP: Couch Perry Wilkes
Civil Engineer: Graham Schofield Associates
Process Engineer: Alectia
Text Description: © Courtesy of Heatherwick Studio, BREEAM, GWP Architecture
Images: © Hufton + Crow, Iwan Baan, Heatherwick Studio

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