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Evolution House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A Grade II Listed Building in Kew, London

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.4748 / 51°28'29"N

Longitude: -0.2963 / 0°17'46"W

OS Eastings: 518416

OS Northings: 176466

OS Grid: TQ184764

Mapcode National: GBR 7Z.V97

Mapcode Global: VHGR2.T668

Entry Name: Evolution House at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Listing Date: 9 May 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1401475

Location: Richmond upon Thames, London, TW9

County: London

District: Richmond upon Thames

Electoral Ward/Division: Kew

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Richmond upon Thames

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: Richmond

Church of England Diocese: Southwark

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Summary

Description

Glasshouse, built as The Australian House, opened in 1952, designed by SL Rothwell, of the Chief Architects Division of the Ministry of Works, with consultant engineer JE Temple and constructed by The Crittall Manufacturing Co Ltd.

The Australian House, or Evolution House, as it is now known, was a gift from the Australian Government, following the visit of Edward Salisbury, Director of Kew Gardens, to Australia. It was built to house plants, collected by Captain McEachern, from the extremely dry climate of south-west Australia, which had been stored in the Temperate House. Since 1995 it has housed the Evolution exhibition which charts the evolution of plants

MATERIALS: The Evolution House is constructed of a pre-formed galvanised frame in H10-WP aluminium alloy, set on a plinth of reused London stock bricks capped with a slate cill course. The mortar is flecked with coarse-grained grit.

PLAN AND STRUCTURE: Rectangular on plan, and with a mansard roof, the glasshouse is of 10 bays, 90' x 52' and 33' 6'' in height and covers an area of 4,680sq ft. Using approximately 60 tons of aluminium alloy, the main frame consists of eleven arches of lattice construction, with 8" x 4" uprights and angle purlins. The end bays are braced; the glazed curtain wall is bolted to the frame and uses standard window sections. Specifically designed to accommodate Antipodean plants, it is ventilated with horizontally opening side windows and clerestorey windows operated by a crank. Entrances, in the end walls, have moulded architraves, a detail which is beyond the purely functional. Special facilities were also provided for cleaning, using a spray system internally and with rails to attach ladders externally.

HISTORY: The glasshouse sits to the west of the Temperate House (listed Grade I), aligned on its short east-west axis and the entrance to Kew Gardens to the east, which was originally intended to align with the proposed site for Kew Gardens railway station. The Australian House was the largest to be built at Kew after the Temperate House and is one of a sequence of significant glasshouses at Kew Gardens.

Noted for its light weight and resistance to corrosion, aluminium was particularly useful to horticulture. The annual report of the Agricultural and Horticultural Research Station for 1948 referred to 'two small, aluminium greenhouses, for work on radio-active tracer elements and growth regulating substances' which were completed that year, while in 1950, Gardening Illustrated advertised 'Crittall Rustless Greenhouses'. Aluminium was used for whole buildings only after 1945 making this an early and rare example of an aluminium glasshouse of this period and of this scale.

Although little has been published on the Australian House, it is cited as an exemplar, along with the roof structure (since rebuilt) of the Botanical Gardens Conservatory Washington, DC, in contemporary journals (The Aluminium Development Association,1953; Brimelow,1957). Prior to its completion, it received a write-up in the National Builder (1951). It anticipated an explosion in the use of aluminium in glasshouses, for example at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, in the 1960s, and in the more recent glasshouses at Kew. Little building work was undertaken at Kew during the 1950s, when maintenance of the building stock was limited to the restoration of the Palm House in 1957-8.

SOURCES
National Builder (Sep 1951), p 41
Aluminium and its Alloys in Building: an Introductory Survey,The Aluminium Development Association (June 1953)
Brimelow, EI, Aluminium in Building (1957)

Kew's Glass House, 13 August 1951, Getty Images http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/3271454 accessed 17/09/2010
Building 0921, Evolution House, RBGK

Drawings held at Royal Botanic Gardens,Kew
Proposed Australian Plant House, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Ministry of Works, 29 October 1952
Australian Plant House, Kew, Ministry of Works, The Crittall Manufacturing Company Limited

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
The Evolution House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, built as the Australian House, opened in 1952, designed by SL Rothwell, of the Chief Architects Division of the Ministry of Works, with consultant engineer JE Temple and constructed by The Crittall Manufacturing Co Ltd., is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: integrated structural form, use of materials and architectural expression in an early post-war, aluminium-framed glasshouse;
* Structural interest: an early and intact example of a complete, pre-formed galvanised aluminium-framed structure used to produce an efficient design for a glasshouse with integrated ventilation, heating and cleaning systems;
* Materials: early use of aluminium in a horticultural building of this scale, used for its light weight and resistance to corrosion;
* Commonwealth connections: a gift of the Australian Government, immediately post-war, built to house the collection of Antipodean plants formerly housed in the adjacent Temperate House;
* Historic interest: one of a sequence of glasshouses at RBGK, of which a number are of outstanding architectural and historic interest, and built at a time when little work was undertaken at the Gardens;
* Group value and setting: proximity to the Temperate House (Decimus Burton,1859, listed Grade I), aligned on the east-west axis with the entrance to the Gardens; within RBGK World Heritage Site (2003).

History

The Australian House, or Evolution House, as it is now known, was a gift from the Australian Government, following the visit of Edward Salisbury, Director of Kew Gardens, to Australia. It opened in 1952 and was built to house plants, collected by Captain McEachern, from the extremely dry climate of south-west Australia, which had been stored in the Temperate House. Since 1995 it has housed the Evolution exhibition which charts the evolution of plants.

The Australian House was designed by SL Rothwell, of the Chief Architects Division of the Ministry of Works, with consultant engineer JE Temple and constructed by The Crittall Manufacturing Company Ltd. The glasshouse sits to the west of the Temperate House, aligned on its short east-west axis. The Temperate House (listed Grade I) was designed by Decimus Burton in 1859 and was completed in 1897-9. The largest of the historic glasshouses at Kew, it is a symmetrically planned conservatory, lying roughly north-south, the central, eastern entrance on the axis of the entrance to Kew Gardens to the east, which was originally intended to align with the proposed site for Kew Gardens railway station.

By 1949 aluminium was well-established as a building and construction material, demand having risen dramatically during the Second World War. Although aluminium was isolated as a usable metal in 1825, it was not until 1886, with the development of the Hall-Heroult process, that its commercial use became a practical reality. The development of aluminium alloys extended the uses of the metal and factories producing a wider range of rolled, cast and extruded shapes were established in the early C20. However, when the National Aluminium Company opened its factory in Banbury in 1931 (Grade II), the use of aluminium alloys was still in its infancy, and the office building at the factory and the New Bodleian Library building in Oxford (1935-46, Grade II) were amongst the first to be fitted with aluminium windows. Aluminium was used for whole buildings only after 1945. The Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain, the world's largest aluminium framed structure, was being designed at the time (demolished1952), while surviving structures from the early 1950s include Limbrick School, Coventry, 1952 (Grade II) and the Comet hangar, Hatfield of 1954 (Grade II*).

Noted for its light weight and resistance to corrosion, aluminium was particularly useful to horticulture. The annual report of the Agricultural and Horticultural Research Station for 1948 referred to 'two small, aluminium greenhouses, for work on radio-active tracer elements and growth regulating substances' which were completed that year, while in 1950, Gardening Illustrated advertised 'Crittall Rustless Greenhouses'.

Although little has been published on the Australian House, it is cited as an exemplar, along with the roof structure of the Botanical Gardens Conservatory Washington, DC, in contemporary journals (The Aluminium Development Association,1953; Brimelow,1957). Prior to its completion, it received a write-up in the National Builder (1951). It anticipated an explosion in the use of aluminium in glasshouses, for example at Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, in the 1960s, and in the more recent glasshouses at Kew. Little building work was undertaken at Kew during the 1950s, when maintenance of the building stock was limited to the restoration of the Palm House in 1957-8.

Reasons for Listing

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