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Chester County Press

‘Reimagined’ expansion taking shape at Longwood Gardens

07/03/2023 02:50PM ● By Richard Gaw
This aerial photograph shows the continuing progress being made on the construction of Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024.
Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

From its 1,100 acres of manicured flower beds, interactive gardens, towering fountain displays and majestic meadows, Longwood Gardens has become a destination known for its pristine beauty, not for its blemishes.

For those who have visited this gemstone of activity over the last year, however, it has been difficult to avoid the 17-acre blemish in the northwest region of the site, but rest assured, it is only a temporary one that once complete will further solidify Longwood Gardens as one of the world’s most prestigious centers for horticultural appreciation and education.

A recent glance at the construction of Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience – scheduled to open in the fall of 2024 – reveals that its story is already unfolding, highlighted by the progress made on the key centerpiece of its big-picture vision.

Longwood Gardens recently announced they have completed the steel and glass structure of the new West Conservatory, a 32,000-square-foot glasshouse designed by Weiss/Manfredi that will be the home of a new Mediterranean Garden that will display gardens, pools and fountains designed by Reed Hilderbrand.

“The West Conservatory and the new Mediterranean Garden are capstones of 100 years of innovation in greenhouse and garden design at Longwood,” said Paul B. Redman, president and CEO of Longwood Gardens. “In 1921, Longwood founder Pierre S. du Pont opened one of the world’s great greenhouse structures, designed by J. Walter Cope. Since then, the conservatory complex has continued to grow and evolve with each generation adding state-of-the-art structures that incorporate new, innovative horticultural displays within.

“The new conservatory is the centerpiece of a cinematic sequence of open and enclosed gardens that together shape the landscape,” said principal architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi. “The relaxed geometries of the pleated conservatory roof and wandering lines of steel columns create tapered perspectives of the gardens inside and link the informal geometries of an adjacent meadow with Longwood’s historic conservatories.

“Inspired by Pierre du Pont’s spirit of innovation, we have designed a living and breathing glass house, with walls and roofs that open and close in response to the weather, earth tubes that draw temperate air inside, and roof valleys that collect water, creating a sustainable destination we hope will become an enduring source of wonder and inspiration.”

‘Passive’ innovations

Set on an immense plane of water, the West Conservatory will welcome guests into a floating garden of planted islands, canals, and low fountains, created by a sophisticated water conservation system that will collect stormwater from the roofs of the West Conservatory and education and administration building, as well as the overflow from the Gardens’ exterior water features.

The building will also use a unique combination of passive and tempering strategies. Ten earth ducts -- three feet in diameter, 250 feet long and buried outside the conservatory – will provide year-round passive tempering of fresh air for visitors.

Outside air entering through these vertical openings will be able to flush out heat buildup, with hotter air rising and escaping through the roof openings. Additionally, an automated shading system will be used to reduce solar heat gain during the hottest days of the summer. During cold months, the shading system will act as a thermal blanket, operating during evening hours to trap heat inside and reduce radiative heat loss.

Plants from around the world

The Mediterranean Garden will take its inspiration from Mediterranean-climate ecosystems, which are known for hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, and the regions’ historic traditions of designing thoughtful, expressive water-wise gardens. The extensive plant palette will consist of iconic plants from six representative geographic areas including the Mediterranean Basin, the Cape Region of South Africa, coastal California, Central Chile, Southwestern Australia, and South Australia.

“The Mediterranean Garden will present 70 species of plants, sourced from premiere North American nurseries, creating a world of year-round experiences that will be very special even within Longwood’s awe-inspiring landscape,” said principal Kristin Frederickson of Reed Hilderbrand. “Our design leads guests on a journey across planted islands configured over a plane of water under glass. The garden and its architecture tell Longwood’s story in a new way for our time.”

Other elements of Longwood Reimagined now underway include the completion of the exterior construction of the new education and administration building, as well as the new restaurant and event spaces. This spring, Longwood Gardens also began construction of The Cascade Garden, a custom-designed conservatory that will preserve landscape architect’s Roberto Burle Marx’s only extant garden in North America that was originally built in 1992. It will be the first time a historic garden has ever been relocated and reconstructed.

Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience is being managed by Delaware-based Bancroft Construction Company.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].