The GLOBAL FLORA Conservatory reimagines how the design of a sustainable greenhouse can enhance global interdisciplinary science education and deepen a public understanding of nature. Global Flora houses Wellesley College’s pre-eminent global plant collection in Dry and Tropical biomes. The iconic Durant Camellia tree, over 140 years old, is housed in a seasonal pavilion that connects with the new facility.
Global Flora demonstrates how design aesthetics integrated with net-zero building performance can improve the overall sustainability of a building’s larger context. Its curved form follows the east-west arc of the sun to maximize solar irradiance for the plants. The need to accommodate different tree heights produces a dynamic and varying interior space which works with the site’s natural topography. Instead of an artificially ‘flat’ ground, topographically diverse living soils supports flexible public programs, from pop-up research labs, places for public school classrooms, ‘carrels’ for plant study to areas for reading, relaxation, and musical performances. The translucent ETFE partition between biomes enables the direct visual comparison of plant form between climate biomes.
The building envelope integrates innovative passive and active sustainable systems to create a new model for sustainable greenhouse enclosures. Compared to glass, the double-layer ETFE skin improves light quality, reduces heat loss, and lightens the building structure. In winter, low daylight passes through the skin and warms the concrete-block north wall, lowering overnight energy needs. In summer, automated vents and solar curtains allow the envelope to ‘breathe’, eliminating the need for active air conditioning.
An open-source Interactive Sensor Platform allows researchers to share real-time data from plants, soil, air, and water. With data available to both public schools and international research universities, Global Flora is a free and public botany lab and ‘museum’ that emphasizes the importance of environmental stewardship to current and future generations on-site and online.