The Princess of Wales Conservatory - design
The design challenge
the Princess of Wales Conservatory
The design challenge for this
major new glasshouse at Kew was both technical and aesthetic. Technically, it
had to replace no fewer than 26 elderly glasshouses with one advanced and sophisticated
building. Aesthetically, the site was exceptionally sensitive, being close to
existing works of the past 'greats'; Burton's Palm House and Chambers' Orangery.
keynote for the design was the highest possible energy efficiency allied to the
lowest possible maintenance costs. It is a simple fact of life that the high humidity
and temperatures needed to support life for tropical plants mean a slow death
for inappropriate buildings.
With its stepped and angled glass construction,
without sidewalls and with most of its space below ground, the conservatory is
a most effective collector of solar energy. The volume is relatively low in relation
to its floor area so that temperatures within the individual zones may be altered
Ten different environments, ranging from
the extreme temperatures of desert to the suffocatingly moist heat of mangrove
swamps, are controlled by computer to provide different levels of heat, humidity
The technology involved is quite awesome. Sensors on walls and
in beds report exact environmental conditions to the computer, which commands
heat to flow, ventilation to open, or mists to spray to increase humidity.
underground boiler room is a temple to today's technology. Also beneath the conservatory,
there are two 227,000 litre (50,000 gallon) storage tanks for rainwater collected
from the roof slopes and used, after filtration and ultraviolet treatment, for
irrigation and replenishment of the ponds.
Form follows function
all, the Princess of Wales Conservatory looks stunning. The old adage that 'form
follows function' is as perfectly demonstrated today as it was some 160 years
ago in Burton's day. It looks absolutely in place in its surroundings, even in
such imposing company. It is beautifully landscaped, too, blending into the Rock
and Woodland Gardens to the east and south and surrounded by the mature trees
of the Arboretum to the north and west.
Designed for an estimated life
span of 100 years, it is interesting to speculate if the Princess of Wales Conservatory
will be as compelling in its future old age as Burton's creations are today. Judging
from the crowds, the comments and the awards, the omens seem good.
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of Wales Conservatory