A lecture on historic conservatories in an historic conservatory – much like peanut butter and chocolate – the perfect combination and very soul-satisfying. Alan Stein, founder of Tanglewood Conservatories presented an intriguing look back at the great conservatories of the 19th century and the enduring impact they have had on history, architecture and humanity.
Alan stated at the end of the lecture, ‘In looking back at the designers and builders of the great conservatories of the 19th century; at the amazing buildings they produced and the impact they had on culture, society and industry of the time, we can’t help but be inspired by their passion, ingenuity and creativity. Few legacies from the past have so much relevance for today’.
Looking Back Shows Us the Future
From the first crude orangeries in the mid-to-late 1600’s that had to be assembled each winter and taken down for spring to the nearly transparent glass houses such as Rawlings, to the modern minimalist movement, conservatories have experienced a marvelous evolution while still inspiring current construction of classic Victorian structures.
Transparent feel of Rawlings Conservatory
Modern minimalist designed by Philip Johnson
Nature is sometimes difficult to access in large sprawling cities such as Baltimore with blocks and blocks of row houses and office buildings. Rawlings provides a quiet sanctuary, an oasis in which to connect with the outdoors and discover nature not just of our local region but virtually anywhere. Public conservatories provide a venue so that we can learn about the natural world – both familiar and strange – local and exotic – and even more exciting, they allow all of us to become explorers just as Bomplad, Poeppig and Schomburgh, who searched the banks of the Amazon in their quest to bring back the giant Amazonian water lily for Queen Victoria in the 1800’s.
Kate Blom, Rawlings Conservatory Supervisor states, ‘Kids go through the rainforest house and see bananas on real trees! – and they get it… where bananas come from instead of the supermarket shelf.’ It is at this point that you can have conversations with them about being stewards of our planet and of the environment.
Many may wonder why the conservatories and their preservation so important? Once again, Kate’s insight is spot on – ‘You can’t tell the story without the tactile experience of touching the bananas, the papayas and the coffee beans growing right there on the bushes!… and you can’t do that without a conservatory!’
Botanic gardens host a variety of beneficial programs – from lecture series on great conservatories, cultivating unusual plant species to exposing inner city children to the basics of gardening along with an emphasis on the arts such as sketching and photography classes. Even the most amateur photographers armed with only a camera phone can take some pretty spectacular photos of the lush environment. The photos below were snapped by Tanglewood team members prior to setting up for the lecture.
The conservatory and its impact on us has withstood the test of time. No matter the venue – private or public – historic or modern – the unique ability to allow us to connect with the outdoors while completely indoors, all while bestowing the magical luminescence of natural light throughout a glass-ensconced room. The benefits are undeniable and their preservation for future generations must be a priority. Alan’s remark in the lecture bears repeating lest we forget – ‘Few legacies from the past have provided as much value and relevance for today as have these eloquent glass houses. The architects and builders from the 19th century have inspired us with their passion, ingenuity and creativity.’ It is up to all of us now to ensure we pass that same wonderment on to our children and their children.