John Wardle Architects’ (JWA) “secret garden” design has been selected as the winner of the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens visitor centre competition.

The winning proposal was chosen from a pool of five architectural submissions. Hassell’s curved and arched steel design and a “gentle” gabion-framed building from Fender Katsalidis Architects were among the unsuccessful designs.

JWA’s design, called Bowral Conservatory, will be located in the centre of the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens in the regional NSW town of Bowral. The gardens, designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL), were opened in 2013, with a primary focus of showcasing species that are either native or endemic to Australia. As such, materials selected for the gardens’ construction reflect the region’s natural resources, such as sandstone, basalt rock and trachyte.


The Bowral Conservatory design is a sensitive architectural response that is respectful of the concepts embedded in the surrounding landscape design. JWA’s proposal “nestles” into a stone wall that forms part of the Parterre garden. The design incorporates a sequence of internal and external spaces that are meant to give visitors the impression that they are “entering a secret garden”.


“Conceptually, the building engages with the long lineage of garden structures and evokes the formal and material characteristics of a conservatory nestled within the garden wall,” says the architect in a design statement.

“As a light-weight structure set above an earthy, brick base the expression of materials in the building is both poetic and rooted in the local history of Bowral.

“The design plays with varying levels of transparency, alluding to the distinctive lightness typically associated with greenhouses, orangeries and conservatories.”



Draft renders for JWA’s Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens visitor centre show a sharp, glass-and-steel frame that protrudes at an angle against a backdrop of taller trees. The glass panels extend from floor to ceiling and continue in parts along the ceiling, reminiscent of a glasshouse – or conservatory, as the case may be.


The interior features a series of brick walls of varying heights, which contribute a sense of solidity to the series of open interior spaces while leaving views of the surrounding gardens unobstructed.



In addition to the long internal conservatory, the building will house a gallery and a café, both of which will be raised above the level of the gardens.

JWA will now work with the gardens’ designers at TCL for the implementation of their winning concept. Although funding for the visitor centre is currently pending, it is anticipated that construction will commence in either 2018 or 2019.