Looking at the trajectory of conservatories, two observations emerge.
As visitor attractions they have become symbols of technological wonder that rely on the shimmering transparency of an all glass shell to create a visual icon. On approach these buildings are intriguing structures but once inside often this architecture does little to contribute to an interior experience that is diverse and immersive.
As buildings dedicated to environmental conservation there is an inherent climatic challenge, particularly during Canberra’s cold winter months. An all glass shell is a poor insulator, losing heat during the winter and exposing the interior to excessive heat gain during the summer. This thermal challenge potentially places the building at odds with the core values of the Australian National Botanic Gardens which is dedicated to the conservation and education of our natural environment.
How can conservatories become unique, memorable experiences in the age of climate change?
This conservatory is an architecture of the senses. Rather than relying on the materiality of glass to create a unique spatial enclosure, this proposal curates and amplifies contrasting experiences to create unexpectedly complex and sublime spaces despite its relatively small footprint. The exhibit of the conservatory and the architecture of the conservatory work together to define a series of immersive spatial experiences that plays upon solid & void, compression & release, light & dark, natural and man-made.
The main exhibit is framed by a void to the sky, defined by a massive cubic form that appears to hover impossibly overhead. This void is designed to provide the necessary light levels to the tropical plant species while limiting the amount of glazing in the building. Surrounding this void is a layered skin that acts as a high performing insulative structure while its outermost layer uses solar energy to pre-warm the air and store excess heat in the wall’s thermal mass to allow the building to maintain its high internal temperature during the winter and stabalise this temperature in the summer. This outermost layer changes from transparent to translucent according to its orientation, creating a unique visual expression through this shimmering and ephemeral veil.
The architecture uses volume, mass & light to define the interior experience and curate diverse ways to interact with the living exhibit. In doing so the success of the experience is not reliant on complex detailing and can instead be purposely raw and direct. This is a conservatory that is symbolic not through its form, but rather through it’s world-leading environmental performance and its uniquely sublime spatial experiences.