28 March 2022

New Case Study: The Welcome Building, RHS Garden Bridgewater

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Last year, the Royal Horticultural Society’s new garden, RHS Garden Bridgewater, opened to the public. It is the largest garden project in Europe and its 154 acres encompass a vast range of garden designs and techniques; there are adventurous modernist plantings, a forest garden with wildlife habitats, a no-dig kitchen garden, communal beds and a large new lake, Moon Bridge Water.


The new garden stands on the site of what was once Worsley New Hall, which was built in the 1840s for the Earl of Ellesmere, and demolished in the 1940s, its huge garden neglected and overgrown for many years. In 2015, it was chosen by the RHS as the site for its fifth national garden – the first in the North West. As part of its aim to bring ‘the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening and gardens’ to more people, the site is close to the population centres of Greater Manchester and aims to attract up to 700,000 visitors a year.


The start of every visitor’s entry to the garden is the new Welcome Building designed by Hodder + Partners. Positioned between the car parks and the garden itself, it is a long, low timber-clad form which aligns itself with the low-lying landscape and the raised banks of the Bridgewater Canal at the southern edge of the site.


Entrance doors open to a dramatic 90 metre long single-storey space created by an exposed timber roof structure, a glulam diagrid poised on branch-like supports, with natural light streaming down through a long central roof light above.


The roof acts as a vast umbrella encompassing all the main functions of the building: a generous arrivals hall for visitors to meet and buy tickets, retail spaces including a plant shop, and a restaurant/cafe. It also allows these functions to adapt to changing needs; retail, catering and welcome areas can all expand and contract as required.


Fixed elements such as offices, toilets, kitchens and educational spaces are contained in timber-clad single-storey blocks which partly project at the edges of the diagrid structure. Along the east side of the building, next to the cafe, a timber boarded deck projects over Moon Bridge Water where visitors can sit and enjoy garden views across the water. The diagrid structure extends beyond the enclosure to the north and south, to indicate and shelter the main entrances, to frame views and to act as solar shading.