Cullinan Studio has completed a site-sensitive visitor complex at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex


Paul Raftery

Cullinan Studio, in association with Concertus Design and Property Consultants, has masterplanned and designed two new hilltop buildings at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden Hyde Hall in Chelmsford, Essex. Forming part of a wider investment programme intended to improve education facilities and the visitor experience across all of RHS sites, the £4.25m scheme comprises the Clore Learning Centre and Hilltop Lodge. As well as supporting the RHS’s expanding education programme, the new buildings act as a landmark, drawing visitors through the site to a vantage point from which they can enjoy the views.


Built from robust materials, including glulam timber structures, zinc cladding, brick, and timber boarding, the buildings are designed to sit in harmony with the farmstead vernacular and complement a neighbouring thatched barn. The two structures are distinguished by the profile and colour of their roofs, which create strong silhouettes against the sky.

Site plan, ground-floor plan, section

“We imagined these precise roof forms silhouetted against the sky, rising out of lush gardens and enticing you to walk up the hill”, explains project architect Carol Costello. “Once at the hilltop, you arrive at a garden framed by buildings which offer refuge and prospect. Each building plays a part in fulfilling a larger ambition to create a very special place that will leave a lasting impression.”


The Clore Learning Centre is a single-storey barn distinguished by a black zinc roof comprising four steep serrated pitches. The roof sits atop red brick wings enclosing a sheltered west-facing teaching garden. Inside, rooflights flood the building with daylight, and a movable wall allows the open-plan learning space to be converted into two smaller, more intimate classrooms. Both arrangements have direct access onto the teaching garden, allowing students to move freely from indoors to outdoors.


Hilltop Lodge is a substantially larger building, characterised by red, zinc-clad pitched roofs featuring ridge lanterns and generous overhanging eaves that shelter full-height windows and oak-clad walls. In common with the learning centre, it has a U-shaped plan opening onto a courtyard, with two barns flanking it. One barn houses a restaurant and the other a multipurpose event space. Internally, glulam timber columns and beams rise to support a linear ridge lantern. Through the interplay of simple forms, natural materials and natural light, the architect has created a calm space where the eye is drawn to views across to Hyde Hall’s Dry Garden and the rolling Essex hills beyond.


The project features a range of ecologically responsible technologies, including durable construction materials, sustainably sourced timber, rainwater harvesting, photovoltaic panels, natural ventilation, and low-energy light fittings.

Additional Images


Concept architect, masterplanner
Cullinan Studio
Lead technical architect
Concertus Design & Property Consultants
Services engineer
The Energy Practice
Quantity surveyor
Dudley Smith Partnership
Design and build Contractor
Brooks & Wood