London: the Victorian glasshouse at London’s Kew Gardens has been restored


The Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, located in Richmond upon Thames are without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in London. 
However due to the age of the structures within it, maintenance and restoration is key to preserve their original beauty. This is why the gardens have contracted the London-based firm Donald Insall Associates to take on this task on one of its buildings. The firm specialises in consulting on historic buildings, so there was no question that they would be the best in the business.


The Temperate House is a masterpiece of 19th-century design. The Grade I listed building is the biggest surviving Victorian glasshouse in the world! At over 190 metres long, the structure is made out of iron, stone and glass.




The timeline


The original glass house was built by architect Decimus Burton in 1860 and is home to 10,000 plants, many of which are extremely rare or endangered species.

In the 1970s the structure well into disrepair and was restored in the early 1980s. In 2003, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew became a World Heritage Site as declared by UNESCO. However in 2012 English Heritage proposed the Temperate House to be put on the Buildings at Risk register.

Following this, the recently completed restoration ensued, which reportedly cost £41 million.




Restoring Temperate House 

“Every conservation technique has been realised in a way that retains the bold spirit of this elegant marriage of Victorian architecture and engineering,” said Aimée Felton, the lead architect on the project.

“We have also carried out our own painstaking research on Decimus Burton and the Temperate House taking samples of old materials and studying these carefully whilst working with the highly skilled craftsmen to ensure all interventions have integrity.”

A core component of the project’s brief was to adapt the building to modern technology standards, making it more in control of the environment within the glasshouse and optimising air flow as well as light levels for the plants. These had to be carefully removed and stored away for safety, apart from four trees which could not be moved.




To complete the re-painting and re-glazing of Temperate House, 69151 parts had to be dismantled, logged and stored. The team used coding software which registered each piece’s original location to ensure they remained true to the original design. Each piece had to be cleaned with high-pressure water jets to reveal the original casting marks.

“New glazing, mechanical, ventilation systems, path and bedding arrangements all took their founding principles from Decimus Burton’s own drawings, held within Kew’s archives,”Aimée.




Analysis performed on the structure’s paint revealed the walls were originally decorated in a colour scheme of stone-coloured walls offset with blue and white decorative elements, before the white titanium dioxide was added in the 1950s. This is why Donald Insall Associates chose a scheme of polychromatic stone colours for the re-paint, in reference to the original colourings.


“The time it will take for the newly propagated plants to reach maturity will offer visitors a full and unobstructed view of the incredible metal skeleton in all its glory: a cutting-edge sanctuary for plants,” added Aimée.



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