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Winter gardens – why everyone wants one

The Winter Garden is becoming an increasingly fashionable building accessory. Adexsi’s Rob Davies explains the attraction.
The concept of the ‘Winter Garden’ goes right back to the 17th Century when it was all the rage among European nobility to build conservatories to house their trendy collections of tropical plants. Many wanted the conservatories to become part of their living areas so they could enjoy and show off their collections to aristocratic friends. These were often built of masonry with large windows and a glass roof.
By the 19th Century, the idea had expanded beyond private properties to serve something of a social function with the first being built for the ‘greater public’ in Regent’s Park, London in 1842. These later versions were constructed using iron struts and curved glass – the most famous being the Crystal Palace, which was built in 1851 and used primarily as an exhibition and concert venue.
Today, the concept is enjoying a great resurgence with notable examples in Sheffield and Sunderland where they are playing a central role in major urban planning strategies and even being credited with making a contribution to tackling problems of social inclusion, deprivation and unemployment.
Sheffield’s ‘masterplan’ involved creating free cultural and leisure spaces – theoretically available to all – with a handsome, multiple award winning Winter Garden designed by the architects Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects at its heart.
Sunderland Museum has a glazed ‘Street’, which is used as a meeting place as well as providing a sense of airy space in the centre of the museum for social events and workshops.
These large public facilities have also sparked a surge of interest in the private building sector. It is increasingly fashionable for architects to plan these spaces as a way of bringing a flavour of the outside world inside and making the building more versatile.
The use of a double skinned glazed façade gives the construction excellent insulation and, without a need for heating, there is no problem with U values. This means a Winter Garden can still meet energy efficiency targets while also being usable all year round.
The ventilation industry has developed a range of tools and products to help designers deliver successful Winter Garden spaces in a wide variety of projects. Ventilation louvres can be used to both manage airflows and temperatures as well as reducing outside noise. As a result, demand for this kind of solution is booming.
The area around the former power station at Battersea on London’s south bank is a classic example. This is set to become one of the capital city’s latest fashionable residential districts and the developers of its ground breaking Riverlight development wanted to offer residents a living area that makes the most of their surrounding environment. Almost every one of the 813 apartments in six striking blocks was sold two years before project completion; such is the excitement about a project that will be part of the massive regeneration close to the landmark power station.
A feature of the design by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for developer St James is the creation of individual winter gardens that give the apartments balcony space that can be enjoyed all year round.
Adexsi UK, because of its expertise in this area, was asked to create a series of panels of bespoke glazed louvres, enabling the winter gardens to be ventilated for comfort cooling in the summer, but kept warm and draught free in the winter. The solution features bespoke designed and manufactured Luxlam window ventilators, fitted with 12mm thick glass to improve sound and thermal insulation.
Our design expertise was also used in a rather different, but related way, in the ‘sky garden’ at 20 Fenchurch Street – better known as the ‘Walkie Talkie’ due its distinctive curved shape – on the other side of the Thames.
This spectacular glazed space – a Winter Garden in the sky – sits on top of 34 floors of commercial offices and is a major reason why the building is now such a distinctive presence on London’s skyline.
At 160m (525 ft) tall, the Walkie Talkie is London’s fifth highest building and cost £200m to build. The sky garden provides three floors of viewing space along with bars and restaurants – all open to the public – within its unusual forward leaning upper level.
It is heavily glazed to provide excellent views of the city and across the river. However, the design team was concerned that the amount of glazing would increase the risk of overheating due to solar gain.
So, Adexsi was asked to design, supply, install and commission a system that would keep the space cool; deliver adequate ventilation for the occupants and visitors, but also provide smoke extraction in the event of a fire without compromising the visual impact of this stunning building feature.
The chosen solution was the Adexsi Veriflow system that can provide daily ventilation, but is also able to switch into smoke ventilation mode. The system features a series of low and high level dampers operating discreetly behind the building’s cladding fins and external/internal louvre systems.
The dampers were installed inside the curtain walling, which was designed by the cladding specialist Josef Gartner, and they operate in a gap of just 180mm. The damper controls are linked to the Walkie Talkie’s building energy management system (BEMS), which ensures the system is fully modulating and that the appropriate number of low and high level vents are open to meet changing ventilation requirements at all times of the day and night.
This kind of internal/external space is now highly fashionable and marketable by a range of developers – and not just at the very top of the luxury market in London. The ability to give building occupants access to an outside environment all year round is proving equally popular in less affluent areas and as part of vital urban regeneration programmes.
We can expect to see growing demand for this type of solution and, thanks to increasingly sophisticated ventilation solutions and allied controls, the building engineering industry is well placed to rise to the challenge.