A Conservatory for the Botanical Garden at Cornell Plantations

The horticultural conservatory is one of the most fascinating building types in the whole history of modern architecture. From Joseph Paxton\’s and Decimus Burton\’s early palm houses, through to the numerous horticultural \”glass houses\” of botanical gardens around the world, this building type continued throughout the nineteenth century to increase in influence. With Paxton\’s creation of the Crystal Palace of 1850, the characteristic steel and glass technology of the conservatory was employed for the first time for a public exhibition structure. Thereafter, this technology became inextricably associated with the architecture of world exhibitions. By the time of Paul Scheerbart\’s 1914 tract: \”Glasarchitektur\”, the influence of the conservatory had moved to the very ideological core of modern architecture, presaging the intense preoccupation with transparency and lightness, shared by modern architects from Hannes Meyer to Mies van der Rohe, and theorists of modernism from Sigfried Giedion to Walter Benjamin. Since the era of Heroic Period modernism in the 1920\’s and 30\’s, the influence of this building type – and of the typical technology associated with it – has been seen largely to have played out. Yet in very recent times, the design of conservatories themselves has taken a very interesting new turn. Conservatories have, after all, always been closely linked with botanical research. Nowadays, this building type is increasingly seen as a potentially definitive exemplar of \”green architecture\”. Since concservatories invariably create interior microclimates that differ significantly from those of their immediate surroundings – especially during certain seasons of the year – conservatories have now become a threshold of environmental research in architecture. Indeed, they must be seen as quintessential examples of climate modifying devices in architecture.The vehicle for the studio option I will offer this fall is a new conservatory which is proposed to be built at the botanical garden at the Plantations at Cornell University. The studio will address the historical, ideological technical and environmental dimensions of design for this most distinctive modern building type. The studio will include a one day field trip to the site in Ithaca, New York, as well as a series of seminars and presentations by specialists in the design of glass buildings.George BairdAugust 25, 2003Precedent 1: The Palm House at Kew, Great Britain, Turner and Burton, 1844-48Precedent 2: Butterfly Conservatory, Niagara Falls, Canada, Baird Sampson Neuert, 1996Precedent 3: Eden, Cornwall Great Britain, Grimshaw Partnership, 2001