Boston-based architecture firm Kennedy & Violich Architecture has flipped the script for energy-intensive greenhouses with the net-zero energy Global Flora, a sustainable botanical facility for Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Engineered to exceed the Net Zero Water & Energy requirements of the Living Building Challenge, Global Flora will follow passive solar principles and draw on geothermal energy.  The botanical facility will also be integrated with an open-source Interactive Sensor Platform to allow people to gather and share real-time data about the plants, including their soil, water and air conditions.

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round greenhouse section with wood paneling

The Global Flora botanical facility builds on the legacy of Dr. Margaret Ferguson, who, in the 1920s, emphasized plant biology as a central part of science education and encouraged Wellesley College students to “listen to” plants and learn through hands-on interdisciplinary experiences. The new greenhouse will serve as a botany lab and “museum” for the college and will also be available and free to the public. The gathered data from the open-source Interactive Sensor Platform will be accessible to public schools and international research universities as well.

Related: Resurrected greenhouse to honor father of modern genetics

greenhouse with multiple floors covered in plants
rounded structure with glass wall revealing large tree growing inside

Located next to the existing visitor center, Global Flora will comprise Dry and Tropical biomes separated by interior ETFE partitions. Unlike most greenhouses, Wellesley College’s botanical facility is almost completely closed off on the north side with a gabion wall filled with local and reclaimed stone to eliminate almost all heat loss through surfaces that don’t receive direct sunlight. Energy recovery units, geothermal-powered radiant heating and cooling and vertical water features help create local microclimates and keep energy use to a minimum. The greenhouse also includes stormwater retention tanks.

room with concrete walls, a wood bench and a tree growing in the center of the room
greenhouse with two sidewalks leading throughout the plants

In addition to the Dry and Tropical biomes that cover a variety of plant habitats from deserts to mangroves, Global Flora includes a seasonal Camellia Pavilion on the northeast side that houses the college’s iconic Durant Camellia tree, which is over 140 years old.

+ Kennedy & Violich Architecture

Images via Kennedy & Violich Architecture