The Palm House and Waterlily House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Active Project

Site History and Significance

Icons of Glasshouse Architecture

First founded in 1759 on the grounds of a prince’s pleasure park, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) today house the world’s largest collection of plants and fungi, with almost 30,000 living plant specimens alone. In keeping with its core work researching, cultivating, and educating visitors about the botanical world, RBG Kew maintains strong ecological commitments, from its work in rainforest advocacy to its plan to become carbon zero.

Kew’s Palm House, designed by Decimus Burton and constructed by Richard Turner in 1844, is one of the Gardens’ most recognizable buildings. Known for its elegant walls of glass and iron, the structure was highly innovative for its time and was rooted in methods and forms used in shipbuilding. Turner also contributed to the nearby Waterlily House, completed in 1852.

Our Involvement

Achieving Zero Carbon

The iron superstructures of the Palm House and Waterlily House are in need of repair, and their Victorian heating systems are both inefficient and expensive to maintain. Reducing their carbon footprint would bring the buildings in line with Kew’s 2021 Sustainability Strategy.

To address these issues, RBG Kew is rethinking the iconic structures' entire heating and insulation systems. New educational text in the Palm House will also put greater emphasis on telling the stories of the importance of rainforests to the environment as a whole and to the peoples who inhabit them.

Successfully making such important historic buildings carbon zero would be a major achievement. As such, Kew has the potential to become a model for the energy transitions of similar buildings—not just in the United Kingdom but throughout the world.

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World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.

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World Monuments Fund's work at Kew Gardens has been made possible, in part, by support from Hélène Marie and Jake Shafran, The Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, Nora McNeely Hurley and Manitou Fund, and the Aldama Foundation.

Last updated: May 2024.

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