Building On Botanical Education and Research

The Global Flora Conservatory, an internationally-renowned botanical collection at Wellesley College, was designed by the American architecture firm Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA Matx) in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team at Wellesley College.


The Global Flora project reimagines the ‘standalone’ typology of the greenhouse as an interlinked and synergistic set of wet and dry biomes that are heated and cooled using renewable resources. The design integrates a curved building form that follows the east-west sun path and engages the hillside topography of the Wellesley Campus. The iconic Durant Camellia tree, which is over 140 years old, is exhibited in a transparent pavilion linked with the new facility. The new Global Flora is one of the first public conservatories in North America that is clad with a transparent ETFE building skin that enables the direct visual comparison and study of plant forms across biomes, advancing public education and scientific research on plant adaptation and the ecology of climate change.

Kristina Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanic Gardens, says: “Global Flora builds on the rich history of botanical education and research at Wellesley College, which was established in the 1920s by Dr. Margaret Ferguson, who advocated for interdisciplinary botanical education as a centre for the college’s intellectual life. The new space will be an amazing platform for student engagement with nature and with the system’s thinking that underpins progress in sustainability.”



Kennedy & Violich Architecture

Managing principal:

Frano Violich, FAIA

Principal consulting on design:

Sheila Kennedy, FAIA

Project architect:

Ben Widger, AIA

Project designers:

Shawna Meyer, AIA LEED AP, Kyle Altman, Bob White, Nick Johnson, Daniel Sebaldt, Michael Bennet, Diana Tomova, Peteris Lazovskis, Mark Bavaso, Lynced Torres and Noam Saragosti

Structural, MEP and envelope engineering:

Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, PC

Civil engineer:

Nitsch Inc.

Landscape architect:

Andropogon Associates

Lighting designer:

Tillotson Design Associates

Code consultant:

Jensen Hughes Associates Inc.

Climate consultant:

Transsolar KlimaEngineering

Exhibit consultant:

Small Design Firm

Energy consultant:

ReVision Energy

The architecture integrates innovative passive and active sustainable systems to meet the net-zero-water criteria of the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous contemporary standards for measuring sustainable design. The elegant, curved form of the Global Flora Conservatory follows the east-west arc of the sun to maximise solar heat gain in winter, which is captured through the thermal mass of a wall. In summer, the architecture’s environmentally-responsive ETFE skin allows the biomes to be cooled entirely through natural ventilation.

“The Global Flora project is the first contemporary conservatory that is designed in a vertical section,” says 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 onsite and online users around the world.

The Global Flora Project has recently been selected as the 2021 Architizer A+ Awards Jury Winner for Architecture + New Technology. It has also won the prestigious Lafarge Holcim Design Award and has been selected as ‘Building of the Week’ by World-Architects.

Share this article

Login to post comments

About us

Future Constructor & Architect is a specification platform for architects and building contractors, which focuses on top-end domestic and commercial developments.

As well as timely industry comment and legislation updates, the magazine covers recent projects and reviews the latest sustainable building products on the market. Subscribe here.

Privacy policy

Latest updates


Sign up below to receive monthly construction, architecture and product updates from FC&A via email: