The Global Flora Conservatory: a sustainable botanical collection

Kennedy & Violich Architecture,


Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA,

Research Center, Schools & Universities,


The Global Flora Conservatory at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, USA, was designed by American studio Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd. (KVA Matx), in partnership with an interdisciplinary team from the college itself, to provide a sustainable home for the college’s botanical collection.

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The Global Flora Conservatory: a sustainable botanical collection
Botanical gardens are all about plants, and we generally get the impression that they are healthy, sustainable places, in addition to being beautiful and educational. But while all conservatories are beautiful, featuring rare and unusual plant species, many greenhouses are actually anything but sustainable! 
The conservatory designed by American studio Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd. (KVA Matx) in partnership with an interdisciplinary team from Wellesley College led by Kristina Jones, professor of botany and director of the botanical gardens, and Cathy Summa, professor of geoscience and director of Wellesley College Science Center, offers new food for thought. To replace the old Margaret Ferguson Greenhouse Conservatory containing the college’s famous collection of plants, the architects redesigned the "stand-alone" greenhouse in a sustainable way. They drew their inspiration from the history of the place, represented here by an iconic Durant Camellia tree more than 140 years old. In KVA Matx’s plan, the tree continues to occupy a central position in the botanical garden, contained in a specially designed seasonal pavilion now connected with the new structure. 
In compositional terms, the curved shape of Global Flora follows the arc travelled by the sun from east to west, maximising passive solar radiation and demonstrating how design aesthetics integrated with net-zero energy performance can improve a building’s overall sustainability.
The architects propose an interconnected, synergic set of wet and dry biomes, heated and cooled using only renewable resources, so that in summer the ETFE skin of the new architecture, sensitive to its surroundings, allows the biomes to be cooled entirely by natural ventilation. 
Architect Sheila Kennedy, FAIA, one of the directors of KVA Matx, comments: "The Global Flora project is the first contemporary Conservatory that is designed in vertical section. The need to accommodate different tree heights produces a dynamic and varying interior space which works together with the configured ground of the site’s topography. This offers diverse spatial experiences of plant form that are slowly revealed as people move through the biomes".
The project demonstrates great awareness of environmental impact, and according to the Living Building Challenge (LBC) sustainability standards, Global Flora exceeds the minimum requirements for water consumption. Energy will be produced by the solar and geothermal systems of Wellesley College campus, where the new structure is located. In addition, a platform of interactive open-source sensors permits collection and sharing via multiple public digital platforms of real-time data on the plants, soil, air and water, making this information accessible to international research universities and public schools to back up the overall goal of sharing knowledge. 
This makes the Global Flora Conservatory a botanical laboratory as well as a free public museum underlining the importance of environmental management for current and future generations, in person and online.
The project’s success has been acknowledged by the jury prize in the 2021 Architizer A+ Awards, Architecture + New Technology section, as well as the Lafarge Holcim Design Award.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd. (KVA Matx)
Location: Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA
Year: 2020
Images: KVA


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