At Kew’s new herbarium a bespoke curved ceiling frame persuades chunky reconstituted glass panels to bend a little

The herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is growing by an astonishing 30,000 specimens a year. Herbaria are collections of dried, preserved plant specimens and fungi. At Kew, the herbarium plays a central role in facilitating research into plant and mycological biodiversity, with over 7 million specimens. But with the collection increasing so fast, it needs more space.

A new wing, designed by Edward Cullinan Architects, is now nearing completion. At its heart is a four-storey, brick-clad, concrete-framed box that will house the specimens.

Day-lit study areas are located around the box’s perimeter, with the main workspace on the top floor under the building’s large concrete-vaulted roof. Here the walls and floors are hard-finished to maintain sterile conditions and prevent pest outbreaks.

To provide acoustic absorption in the space, ceiling specialist Baker Stickland worked with the architect to develop a bespoke curved ceiling raft, mounted below the curved concrete ceiling.

“The framework is key to the success of the ceiling,” says Mark Yates-Smith, a director at the specialist contractor.

This unit uses a curved rigid frame to bend Sto Acoustic Ceiling boards – 15mm thick panels made from reconstituted glass.

The lighting is installed and the services masked before the unit is sprayed with Sto Superfine plaster to provide a final finish, which Yates-Smith describes as “acoustically invisible”.

Aluminium feature panels that run longitudinally between the curved ceiling rafts and the lantern rooflights provide access to the electrical services enclosure behind.