Pittsburgh architects' design features tropical forest at Phipps Conservatory

A taste of the tropics, with a new tropical forest and Thailand exhibit, is featured in the new expansion at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pa. This is the first major expansion at the conservatory since 1893.

The Tropical Forest is the second phase of the $36.6 million expansion project that also includes the Welcome Center, production greenhouses and Trustees Hall, all completed in 2006.

Designed by IKM of Pittsburgh, the team wanted the 12,000-square-foot expansion to balance between the latest advances in eco-technology and exquisite horticulture in a dramatic, new glass house. The design captures the sun’s path as it travels across the site overlooking the south-facing plaza and the lower boundaries of Schenley Park, in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

Reaching 60 feet in height, the horticultural display takes visitors to the tropics with a strong aroma of jasmine, cascading waterfalls, streams, pools, a Healer’s Hut and hidden grottos. A walkway that projects into the forest canopy provides panoramic views over the conservatory below and to the local landscape beyond the glass walls. In the ground-level Palm Circle as many as 40 visitors can gather for presentations and programs about how building uses both ancient and modern horticultural methods.

Like the silver LEED-certified Welcome Center addition, also designed by IKM, the Tropical Forest Conservatory includes sustainable features to provide optimal conditions for the plants and visitors with a minimum of energy use.

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