Modern Conservatories – The Great New Look of the Traditional Glass Palace

Posted February 28th, 2013 by Alan Stein and filed in General
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Gardens by the Bay, Singapore 2012Palm House Kew Gardens, London

         Gardens by the Bay, Singapore 2012                              The Palm House Kew Gardens, London 1844-1848


While traditionally styled conservatories make up the bulk of Tanglewood’s portfolio, the relevance of the conservatory as a building type and function is validated by the many “modern” conservatories still being built around the world today.

In fact, the conservatory is as relevant today, perhaps more so, than it was 150 years ago when it made its debut in Victorian England.

The conservatory was at the cutting edge of building technology. The major issues to be solved: 1) how to design and construct a structure that was absolutely minimal so that the maximum amount of light would be available to the flora within. 2) How to design the glass “skin” to be the most efficient at letting light in and yet keep the weather out and the heat in. 3) What to make such a structure look like, since it was a completely new type of building and there were no precedents available.

The designers of the day used all their ingenuity and took advantage of every technological advance to solve these and many other issues. These are the some of the same challenges that confront designers of today’s conservatories and the purposes for erecting such buildings are similar as well.

For example, the two striking conservatories that make up the “Gardens by the Bay” project in Singapore which opened last year were conceived as key ingredients to a strategy to transform Singapore from a “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”. The stated aim was “… to raise the quality of life by enhancing greenery and flora in the city”.

Not so different from the aim of Victorian era planners who included urban parks and grand conservatories for the public use much for the same purpose. The massively profitable Industrial Revolution had polluted and denigrated the quality of life in all major cities.

Read below about these amazing structures that have attracted so much attention and hosted over one million visitors since opening six months ago.

The largest climate-controlled conservatories in the world exist side-by-side in Singapore. These two greenhouses were named World Building of the Year in October 2012 at the World Architecture Festival. The two, known as the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, are part of a Gardens by the Bay project by the city of Singapore to create a “City in a Garden.” To get this project underway, the city held an international master plan design competition in January 2006. Over 70 entries from 170 companies in over 24 countries were received, 35 from Singapore alone. In September 2006, Grant Associates and Gustafson Porter, both from the United Kingdom, won the competition. Grant Associates broke ground for Bay South and Gustafson Porter started Bay East in November 2007. Bay East was completed first and opened to the public in October 2011.

Bay South, which contains both of the cooled conservatories, opened for a special preview in November 2011. It officially opened to the public in June 2012. The project, in addition to Grant Associates, was also developed by several other architectural firms: Wilkinson Eyre, Atelier One, Atelier Ten, Land Design and Davis Langdon and Seah. The Flower Dome is a “cool dry conservatory, and the Cloud Forest is a “cool moist conservatory.” Both are designed to show how horticulture can thrive and how it is affected by climate change.

Both greenhouses have a dual-system gridshell structure containing arches that allow as much light as possible in to allow the plant displays inside to flourish, as well as to showcase energy efficient sustainable building technologies. The gridshell portion of the structure is fragile but it was designed to support its own weight plus the weight of the glass. The arches are “set away from the surface of the envelope [glass panels] and arranged radially in line with the geometry of the gridshell.”

The cooled conservatories use a passive means of environmental controls as well as a highly efficient and active system control; they are carbon neutral because of the low-energy, renewable systems that they use. Sophisticated systems had to be designed to operate the greenhouses efficiently. The glass panels, known as envelopes, let in light but at the same time, lower solar heat gain. The panels only allow about 65% of daylight, and only about 35% of solar heat, in. Dry air is cooled in chilled water pipes at the bottom of the conservatory buildings’ ground slabs. As the air warms and rises, it is either directed back into the system for other processes (dehumidifying for example) or allowed to drift out of the structures. Solar trees are used as vents to remove the hot air and to generate hot water and electricity for both buildings. When it rains, the water is collected and stored, then used for irrigation.

These amazing buildings are made of varying shapes and sizes of glass panels. The Flower Dome has 3,332 panels consisting of 42 different shapes and sizes; the Cloud Forest has 2,577 panels, consisting of 690 shapes and sizes! The Flower Dome is the world’s biggest column-less greenhouse. The steel grid of the conservatory acts like an eggshell, and the panes of glass fit together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The Cloud Forest building’s height is 58 meters (190.3 feet) tall, while the Flower Dome’s highest point measures 38 meters (124.7 feet) tall. The footprint of the Flower Dome is just over two football fields (1.2 hectares) long and the Cloud Forest is .8 hectares or approximately one and a half football fields long.

The cooled conservatories are open year-‘round, however, there are scheduled maintenance days. The Gardens by the Bay web site has a list showing which days each building is closed, so planning your visit shouldn’t be too difficult. The conservatories offer guided tours, audio tours, a self-guided trail, and children’s and school programs.

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve been to the Gardens by the Bay and the Cooled Conservatories or if you are planning a visit. Please leave your comments below.