Mexican Artists Francisco Toledo and Luis Zarate and the Anthropologist and Biologist, Alejandro de Avila began creating the cultural ensemble that would become the Botanical Gardens of Santo Domingo in the summer of 1994. They hoped to crown their achievement with a pavilion for growing selected species that would participate in representing the extreme biodiversity of the region in which Oaxaca sits.
The Pavilion is intended to support the conditions for growing plants through sustainable systems (zero energy, zero water, and zero waste) while being a minimally invasive building as part of the gardens while providing a unique experience and platform for viewing the orchids and the garden from above.
The Pavilion has been successful in sheltering the species living within. It does this through its use of materials and technologies that have been revolutionary in a context characterized by a very low-tech construction industry and a conservationist attitude towards architectural interventions. It is also being used as an interactive tool to educate future generations in the vastness of the biodiversity of the region and inspire broader implantation of sustainable architecture.
The Orchid Pavilion is located in the heart of Oaxaca, Mexico within the walls of the Church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzman (constructed 1572-1666) – now the Botanical Gardens of Santo Domingo. The Pavilion sits within one of the most biologically diverse ecologies in the world and as part of an ensemble of cultural experiences. Beyond the physical site, the Pavilion is located in a part of Mexico with a unique building tradition, labor force, and construction expertise that would be integrated into the design. The project was funded by a mix of public and private support and, as a result, required a phased design approach. The project also sits within the context of FGP’s broader body of work that had been primarily focused on large-scale transportation, urban, residential, retail, and commercial projects. The design of the Educational Pavilion gave Francisco an opportunity to work on a very intimate scale with an intense attention to detail. It was also the first time that he had built a project in Mexico since leaving his own country to pursue a master’s at the Harvard GSD in 1998. Designing the Pavilion offered a chance to synthesize many of the ideas expressed in his larger-scale work. The Orchid Pavilion was completed at a time when Francisco founded FGP Atelier and, as such, marks a point of departure and thesis statement for the work that he hopes to accomplish in the coming decades.
Objectives and Performance
The Orchid Pavilion is conceived as a contemporary cultural building in contrast with its historic context around the idea of minimum use of resources and minimum environmental impact. It is a self-sustaining “machine” for harvesting. The idea of total transparency was critical in the design. The flooring planks for the staircase and the viewing platform are an open grid to allow light and views from all directions into the chambers. Its design is based on five elements: the west chamber (hot chamber), the east chamber (cool chamber), the central staircase (which collects rainfall), the viewing platform, and the ‘invisible systems’ (geothermal, evaporative cooling and power). The east and west chambers are rectangular glass boxes oriented on the north-south axis to provoke natural cross ventilation. They are located on either side of the central staircase and designed to run on very different thermal criteria. The conditioning is provided through a geothermal system that injects cold air into the chambers from the underground soil via one turbine that is powered by solar panels (which are located 100 meters away in the roof of the complex’s administrative building). The central staircase brings the visitors through the chambers up to the viewing platform from where stunning views into the church and the botanical gardens can be experienced an opportunity as well to contemplate the curated plant content from an elevated perspective. Underneath the staircase rainfall is collected and stored into the complex’s main well to be used by the evaporative cooling system that supports the cooling and irrigation systems. In addition, the majority of the building has been crafted, manufactured and assembled on site. Finally, Francisco invited his longtime friends Werner Sobek and Matthias Schuler to make the structure as light-weight and sustainable by design as possible.
1-Zero Energy Consumption 2-Zero Water Consumption 3-Zero Waste
The Greenhouse does not use any power from the city grid to run the fans (for Air Pipe System) and the sprayers (for evaporative Cooling). The electricity that is required is generated via PV panels that are mounted on the roof of the main administration building. Due to the sensitivity of the Orchids, no artiﬁcial lighting is required for neither day and night conditions, reducing further the energy demand.
BURIED AIR PIPE SYSTEM
The system uses two Fans (main and back up) to pull outdoor air through a single intake cavity located in the east wall of the site’s northeast boundary (where the ambient temperature is the lowest throughout the year). The Air is then circulated through the buried air pipe network which is approximately 132 meters in length and wraps around the Greenhouse 10 meters below grade.
A system of Overhead Sprayers mounted at the nodes of the roof structure create humidity for conditioning and harvesting.
PARTIAL OVERHEAD SHADING AND CROSS VENTILATION
The Viewing Platform in the perimeter of the pavilion is constructed with a tight steel grating that provides partial passive shading to the interior of the chambers. Flaps located in the North and south elevations and the Roof, limit greenhouse temperature to go above ambient conditions; but never below; this is where the performance of the Buried Air pipe System and the Evaporative Cooling is critical to maintain the Chambers within expected ranges below 26 degrees centigrade and 70% humidity.
The use of the above strategies eliminates the need of HVAC equipment which is not only costly but inefﬁcient.
Technology and Aesthetics
The Pavilion provides a unique experience within the Botanical Gardens through its materiality, transparency, and the way that it frames the garden and the city. It is a reflection of the fragility of Life on Earth. As an entirely self-sustaining ecosystem, it challenges visitors to consider how they might live in a more sustainable manner as well as to reflect on what is required to sustain the life of a delicate orchid and that might be required to sustain our own delicate existence over the coming century. This bespoke tailoring of an architectural object and the atmosphere it supports is a mission that runs throughout FGP’s work. In particular, these projects pick up on the themes of transparency and free integration with a context, using layered building skins to mediate between the interior and context, using geometry and material to challenge the capacity of the architectural object, creating a dialogue between classical platonic form through materiality and digital design tools, creating atmospheres supported by sophisticated hidden sustainable systems, using transparency to explore privacy and publicity, and the way that these components can be integrated at the level of the cell. The result are buildings and urban plans that express greater freedom and sustainability in order to help the inhabitant live a more productive and creative life. The Pavilion, in particular, marks a shift from a strictly formal approach to dwelling relying on rigid fixed geometries that can be deployed to any site around the world to an ecological approach that does not merely optimize energy performance or integrate the architectural object into a broader system, but manifests the ecology in an architectural language defining materiality, tectonics, and hierarchy of systems, spaces, programs. In doing so, it becomes an integrated whole.
The Following is an excerpt of Sam Thorne’s article on Frieze Magazine published on March 11th of 2016, on his visit to the Pavilion. When I visited in December, I was shown around by the gardens’ founding director, Dr Alejandro de Ávila Blomberg, a botanist and anthropologist – as well as curator of the nearby textile museum – with a poet’s turn of phrase. (Explaining that one tree was covered with ferocious spikes to ward off long-extinct megafauna, I heard him murmur: ‘It’s protecting itself from ghosts.’) De Ávila Blomberg wanted to show me the gardens’ newest addition, some 12 years in the making: a sleek greenhouse that looks like a hybrid of Renzo Piano’s glass pavilions and Archigram’s 1960s proposals for walking cities. Designed pro bono by Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, this is the Chicago-based architect’s first building in his native Mexico. The pavilion is defined, more than anything, by light and lightness. The small amount of energy it needs is provided by solar panels, while modular units mean that the structure can be extended, dismantled or moved entirely. The pavilion’s architect calls it a ‘machine for growing orchids. It is also something of a blueprint for the museum of the future. How can you combine environmental sustainability with structural flexibility? How to balance usability and aesthetics? How to modulate light levels, humidity and temperature while, at the same time, planning for a future that cannot be known? Set within this museum-like garden, Gonzalez-Pulido’s light-footed pavilion offers several propositions to the questions that the next generation of museum planners will have to answer. A garden in the high valleys of Mexico may seem an unlikely place for such provocative thinking but, as Ian Hamilton Finlay once remarked: ‘Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.’