Laverstoke Mill, Bombay Sapphire's new home in Hampshire, is an architectural project of many firsts. It is the first project of its scale and complexity in the UK by its celebrated London-based designer, Thomas Heatherwick. It is also Heatherwick Studio's first conservation project, as well as its first design for a production facility, something Heatherwick is passionate about. Finally, Laverstoke Mill is the first project of either type - refurbishment or distillery - ever to receive the prestigious Outstanding BREEAM rating for environmental assessment.
When the leading gin brand began searching for its new home in England five years ago, the derelict paper mill in Laverstoke (which, in its heyday, printed banknotes for the Bank of England, no less) stood out as the ideal renovation project. Heatherwick led the transformation of this historical complex in the English countryside into a state-of-the-art gin-production facility. The results do not disappoint.
While the human experience was central to his proposal for the old mill, Heatherwick also focused on the site's water component. Years of development had nearly obliterated the bank of the River Test, which runs through the Hampshire site, and led to an architectural complex that felt overcrowded and uneven. The team set out to amend this. '[One of the challenges was], how do we take this cacophony and make it make sense, and turn it into a place of manufacture - only for gin instead of paper,' says Heatherwick.
Placing the riverbank at the design's heart and opening up the site, the team meticulously cleaned up, lovingly restored, upgraded and added to the complex, paying special attention to public spaces. 'It was the first time we'd worked with so many heritage buildings,' says Heatherwick, who now has projects in various stages in South Africa and the UK. The Laverstoke undertaking included the delicate handling of three Grade II-listed buildings, as well as a strong sustainability requirement.
The other crucial element leading the design was, of course, the distillation, which is on full display to visitors at key stages of the process. Without a doubt, the key attraction, however, is the distinct and cleverly designed pair of glasshouses. The bulbous structures 'float' on the river and house the brand's valuable collection of Mediterranean and tropical gin-making plants. They also highlight the project's sustainability credentials, making strategic use of the by-products of distillation.
'There was all this excess heat from the distillation process, so we thought, "Could we use that heat to create the growing conditions for the tropical and Mediterranean plants?"' says Heatherwick. 'We felt there was an opportunity for modern glasshouses.' Ivano Tonutti, Bombay's Master of Botanicals, agrees this project made a big difference to his work. 'It is important to have something to show and touch,' he explains. 'We are very passionate [about what we do] and this place makes us even more proud.'
Laverstoke Mill distillery has been up and running for about six months, finessing its new home before the grand opening on 1 October. Marking the occasion, the spirit will also be available in a special-edition 'Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill Limited Edition' bottle. 'And there will be more surprises to come,' hints Tonutti. Watch this space.