Dragons return to adorn The Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens after a 200 year absence

Kew Pagoda Dragons

Dragons return to adorn The Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens after a 200 year absence

Dragons return to adorn The Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens after a 200 year absence due to the technical expertise of Austin-Smith:Lord Architects. Eighty decorative dragons once again adorn the famous Kew Pagoda, following a two-year conservation project.

Now, the two-year project by our client Historic Royal Palaces in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is complete, and dragons once more adorn this unique structure. Thanks to the technical conservation expertise supplied by the Glasgow studio of Austin-Smith:Lord architects, and with the generous support of the Sanpower Group of Companies, the building has finally been returned to its 18th century splendor, and for the first time in decades the general public will have access to the upper floors.

The Great Pagoda was designed by architect Sir William Chambers for the royal family. Chambers was inspired by the buildings he saw when working in Canton and his designs for the Great Pagoda were influenced by prints he had seen of the famous Porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing.  Londoners and tourists alike flocked to see the striking 50m tall building, which formed part of a homage to the Grand Tour in the royal garden, with the Pagoda providing an unusual window into Chinese culture at the time.

It was one of the jewels in the crown of Georgian London: a building so unusual that a suspicious public were unconvinced it would remain standing when it was built in 1762. Designed at the height of the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie, The Great Pagoda at Kew was famously adorned with eighty brightly coloured wooden dragons. The eye-catching dragons were the talk of the town.

Observers were most impressed by dragons, designed to dazzle and described tantalizingly in accounts at the time as ‘iridescent.’ Though memorable, the dragons were removed in 1784, when slate and copper work replaced earlier experimental cast iron tiles on the building’s roofs under the direction of Chambers.

David Millar, Lead Designer and Conservation Architect, A-S:L, said

“It has been an immense privilege to be involved with the conservation work at this unique and important 18th century structure sharing our approach to the repairs and the reinstatement of the dragons with the HRP team of surveyors to the fabric and curators. For myself the process has been both intellectually stimulating and rewarding and the end result of this collaborative labour sensational. We have successfully blended traditional craftsmanship with innovative SLS 3D printing to achieve this end result ”

Craig Hatto, Project Sponsor, Historic Royal Palaces, said,

‘It has been fascinating to piece together the story of the elusive dragons, missing from this remarkable building for over two centuries. Using tantalising contemporary accounts and drawings, and taking inspiration from surviving eighteenth century dragons in houses and museums across Europe, we’ve pulled together a team of specialist craftsmen to ensure the new dragons are as faithful to the original design as possible.’

Adrian Phillips, Palaces and Collections Director, Historic Royal Palaces, said,

‘We’re excited to be restoring The Great Pagoda at Kew to its former glory, and are working with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew towards opening this wonderful building for the public to enjoy from the 13 July 2018. The Pagoda forms an important part of Kew’s fascinating royal history, which we already explore at Kew Palace, the Royal Kitchens and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.’

To book your visit to the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens, visit The Great Pagoda at Kew