Comments Off on Small Wonders live at the Conservatory at Chateau Lednice
The Conservatory at Chateau Lednice at the Liechtenstein Castle in the southern area of Moravia in the Czech Republic is another example of the country’s superlative glass conservatories. When Duke Alois II, the Prince of Liechtenstein decided to add a conservatory during the remodel of his castle in 1840. He looked to England for the design, choosing English architect, P.H. Desvignes, to create the project which was built in the avant-garde Style of John Claudias Loudon. Desvignes began as an engineer who later studied at the Royal Academy of Arts.
Desvignes created the system of semi-circular arches ending in quarter spheres that give the conservatory a particularly graceful look as well as providing much of the building’s rigidity, eliminating the need for the diagonal supports so often seen in glass conservatories. The result is a sense of openness even as the glass protects the contents from weather of all sorts. We’ve written about this type of construction here.
Famous for its many details, this conservatory leans on oriental designs. For example, Persian rugs inspired the design of the ventilation grilles while the capitals of the cast-iron pillars are based on banana leaves. Topped by a pagoda-like ventilation structure, the total effect is a bit like an exotic oriental garden.
Also known as the Lednice Orangery, this glass and cast iron structure was the first stand-alone glass house in Europe. Small wonder this lovely conservatory was designated a Conservatory Heritage Foundation site. A refurbishing of the structure revealed that in addition to cast-iron, forged iron was used in some of the decorative pillars.
The floor of the conservatory is another marvel. The path that leads one through the plantings is actually constructed of cast iron grates which allow heat from a heating system to warm the interior.
An ideal destination site for conservatory lovers traveling to the Czech Republic, the castle with it’s glass conservatory is set in the midst of an extensive landscape park or region of over 109 square miles. This huge park is designated as a ‘cultural landscape,’ an official term of World Heritage Sites which defines the area as “a landscape designed and created intentionally by man.” It stretches roughly between the Lednice and Valtice areas of the South Moravian Region, near Břeclav in the Czech Republic, providing much to explore for any visitor.
While you’re exploring, let your mind soar as you explore both the small and large details you dream about having in your own home! Your home can have the same atmosphere as the Chateau Lednice with designs and details that relate back to this century-old work of art.
The Czech Republic in the 1800s was ahead of its time in regards to iron architecture. According to Dobroslav Libral in Iron Architecture in the Bohemian Lands from the Mid-Nineteenth Century until Art Nouvea:
“The Bohemian lands had already been to the forefront in iron production in central Europe for some centuries. Production in the modern period thus has a long tradition in the past. Already by the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, iron architecture was beginning to influence the appearance of our countryside.”
The first building projects using iron were chain suspension bridges, the first of which was built close to the town of Stráznice in southeast Moravia in the early 1820s. Soon after, architects took their designs to the next level and, again according to Libral, “iron architecture … developed within the framework of late, Gothicizing Historicism.” However, British architects were the ones who had a direct role in influencing the direction these Czech architectural designs took.
The conservatory at the Chateau Lednice (Liechtenstein Castle) in the southern area of Moravia in the Czech Republic is one such British designed project. Duke Alois II the Prince of Liechtenstein in 1840 wanted to renovate the palace and sent his architect Georg Wingelmüller to Great Britain to study Tudor architecture. Soon after, the Duke hired English architect, P.H. Desvignes*, to design and build the iron conservatory adjoining the drawing rooms. Klein Brothers Iron Works in northern Moravia supplied the cast-iron needed for the project. The greenhouse construction was started in 1843 and finished in 1845.
The conservatory at Lednice is unique in many ways; the first being that the building is the only existing fully functional hothouse on the European continent. The second unique feature is that it was built using John Claudias Loudon’s avant-garde architectural style. Loudon created a system of wavy semicircular arches that end at quarter spheres. The resulting grids make it possible for the insertion of panes of glass thus giving the structure rigidity and a way to block wind and rain. The resulting light patterns that filter through the glass give the conservatory an almost Ottoman palace-like look. And, as Sylvia Saudan-Skira and Michael Saudan note, in Orangeries, Palaces of Glass-Their History and Development:
A few exotic touches – the pattern of the ventilation grilles borrowed from Persian rug designs and the banana leaf capitals of the cast-iron pillars – give the conservatory the bewitching charm of the oriental gardens there had been a vain attempt to re-create the grounds during the previous century.
The pillars, which are seven inches in diameter at the base, support a slightly curved roof made of sheet metal. Topping the conservatory’s roof is a ventilation structure shaped like a pagoda. The surface of the roof is covered with very small panes of glass to produce the curvature of the building, quite unlike Richard Burton’s buildings in Dublin and Belfast.
What is even more unique and remarkable about the Lednice conservatory is that it was built without diagonal supports to buttress it against the wind. The curvilinear glass and iron structure can withstand the wind without being supported by any other structures.
In addition to the remarkable design of the walls and roof of the Lednice hothouse is the design of the floor. The path around inner circle of the conservatory is made of cast-iron grates that cover the heating system. Beneath the conservatory is a vaulted catacomb-like area that is large enough to house tropical plants, including palms, during the winter.
The original hothouse was made to mimic a sort of Garden of Eden. Orange trees that were hundreds of years old were planted, along with camellias, azaleas, magnolias, agaves, araucarias and other exotic species of plants. Goldfish swam around in a small pool that spouted jets of water; and canaries and golden pheasants were allowed to fly unencumbered.
Unfortunately, the winter of 1879-80 was too cold and many of the plants died. However, the palms from more temperate climates, banana trees, roses, camellias and begonias that are today, date from the new plantings made after that winter. Rare plant species, such as cycads and tree ferns, along with seasonal flowers, like cyclamens, gloxinias, azaleas, and cinerarias, border the path.
In 1995 the State Historical Monuments Board in Brno conducted a thorough inspection of the conservatory and determined that refurbishing was needed. However, despite the temptation to introduce modern technology and horticultural methods to the project, it was decided to preserve the historical authenticity of the hothouse and the methods for watering the plants, and regulating the light and ventilation. Work began in 1997 on the heating system, followed by work on the pillars.
It was discovered upon dismantling of the pillars, that they were not made of just cast iron. Forged iron was also used. The bamboo trunks with vegetal decoration were only a casing; plaster of Paris was used to bind the various parts in the original construction. Resin was used during the renovation. Out of the original forty-four pillars, only three had to be completely replaced. In addition, the 65,000 panes of glass were each examined and cleaned. All in all, 99 percent of the conservatory’s original materials were preserved!
The conservatory at Lednice was reopened to the public in 2002. Over 100,000 visitors come to admire its beauty every year.
* There seems to be some disagreement on the architect’s last name. We have come across three different versions of it: as noted above, Devlen, Devien and Devian.
Comments Off on Steel and Glass Conservatories in the Czech Republic
Among the many historic castles scattered throughout the countryside in the Czech Republic, there are two that have beautiful conservatories of historic significance and are open to the public. We visited both on our recent trip.
Near the southeast border, not far from Vienna, Austria is the town of Lednice, the best-known tourist destination in this southern area known as Moravia. This is the warmest part of the country and it is full of romantic nooks, architectural jewels and unique nature reserves.
The Neo-Gothic Chateau Lednice has an extensive park which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a large steel, iron and glass conservatory of absolutely fantastic structural design. It was originally constructed in 1843.
The conservatory building is striking. At over 300 feet long, it is made of small, delicately shaped iron ribs spaced close enough together so that no additional structural beams are used. The pieces of glass are small and are used in the traditional method of overlapping shingles to create the curvature of the roof.
The real significance of this historic conservatory however lies in the way that the architect, an Englishman named P.H. Devian, used the panes of glass themselves as structural “shear” panels to give the overall building the required rigidity and wind resistance normally accomplished with the use of steel columns and beams. This was a scheme inspired by architect John Claudius Loudon and used in several of his glass buildings in England. It represented an audacious departure from the status quo of structural engineering design of the day.
To allow the glass itself to take on structural capabilities was a unique innovation and yielded a transparency never before obtained in a building. Even today, structural engineering dictates that the structure itself must be sufficient to support itself without relying on glass or any other “infill” material.
One of the most illustrative features of this design concept are the large arched windows that project out from the curved roof structure.
There is nothing but a small iron rib that joins the surface of the window to the surface of the main roof. The flimsy steel frame would hardly stand up in a slight wind without the help of the glass to make it rigid.
The conservatory at Lednice was also one of the first to use iron for all its parts which was much stronger and long lasting than the wood parts previously in use.
This steel and glass skylight at the entrance to the conservatory at Lednice does not have a structural member at the ridge, but relies on the stiffness of the glass itself – another example of the technical daring by the architect described above.
To the west of Lednice in the Bohemia region, is the Schwarzenberg Castle in the town of Hluboka nad Vltavou. Built in 1847 by architect Franz Beer, this beautiful conservatory also uses iron ribs for support but unlike the conservatory at Lednice, the entire structure is supported internally by steel trusses – a much different and much less innovative approach than at Lednice.
One interesting feature of the Hlubloka conservatory is the way in which cast iron ornamentation is used on the exterior façade of the building. These decorative pieces are in no way related to any structural requirements, but are solely “stuck –on” to the building to give it a certain “look”.
Unlike the conservatory at Lednice, which one could say was a very straightforward, “honest” expression of what it is made of – in that it uses it’s structure as its aesthetic – the Hluboka building turns it’s back on itself and tries to cover what it is made of and become something else.
I wonder if this is a reflection of the personalities and insight of the architects themselves – and maybe their clients. Was P.H. Devian a man who was much more comfortable with himself and his capabilities than was Franz Beer? As artists, their works must be expressions of what is inside each of them. I think this question could also be asked of architects and designers today. What does an architect or an artist’s work tell us about what is inside the person creating the works?
This stairway inside the conservatory at Hluboka is one of my favorites and the only conservatory dedicated to enclose a stairway I’ve ever seen.