The Global Flora Conservatory, an internationally renowned botanical collection at Wellesley College, has been selected as the 2021 Architizer A+ Awards Jury Winner for Architecture + New Technology. The project redefines the typical idea of a ‘greenhouse’, and introduces an interlinked and synergistic set of Wet and Dry biomes that are heated and cooled using renewable resources. The project was designed by the American architecture firm, Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd., in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team at Wellesley College led by Kristina Jones, Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanic Gardens, and Cathy Summa, a Professor of Geoscience and Director of the Wellesley College Science Center.
“Global Flora builds on the rich history of botanical education and research at Wellesley College established in the 1920s by Dr. Margaret Ferguson, who advocated for interdisciplinary botanical education as a Center for the College’s intellectual life.” says Kristina Jones, Ph.D., “The new space will be an amazing platform for student engagement with nature and with the systems thinking that underpins progress in sustainability.
The curved form of the building along the east-west sun path, allows to maximize solar heat gain in winter, which is captured through the thermal mass of the wall. The conservatory is one of the first public conservatories in North America to have ETFE skin, that allows the biomes to be cooled entirely through natural ventilation in the summer. The ETFE skin enables the direct visual comparison and study of plant form across biomes, advancing public education and scientific research on plant adaptation and the ecology of climate change. The design integrates innovative passive and active sustainable systems to meet the Net Zero Water criteria of the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous contemporary criteria for measuring sustainable design. The iconic Durant Camellia tree, over 140 years old, is exhibited in a transparent pavilion linked with the new facility.
“The Global Flora project is the first contemporary conservatory that is designed in vertical section,” said architect Sheila Kennedy, FAIA, a Principal of KVA Matx, “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.”
Public education and scientific research in the Global Flora project are enhanced by an Interactive Sensor Platform integrated into the Conservatory design that provides real-time air, water, soil, and energy data, expanding knowledge of natural and architectural systems and public access to the collection for on-site and online users around the world.
The Global Flora Project has also won the prestigious Lafarge Holcim Design Award and has been selected as Building of the Week by World-Architects. Completed in 2020, the project was built by Turner Construction and supported by the generosity of Wellesley College Trustee Mary White.