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Chester County Press

Longwood Reimagined: A new legacy, unfolding

11/27/2023 12:17PM ● By Richard Gaw
Longwood Reimagined: A new legacy, unfolding [5 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

Completing a magnificent vision – as in the case of the Longwood Reimagined: A New Garden Experience project now fully underway at the venerable institution – often takes time, but as a 200-plus workforce continues to work toward a Fall 2024 grand opening, the vision among the concrete and the dirt mounds is already being realized as a perfect harmony of art, functionality, nature, history and legacy.  

To the immediate west of Longwood founder Pierre S. du Pont’s masterpiece known as the Conservatory, the $250 million project is creating a new horticultural experience in the form of construction and restoration of six structures:

  • The 32,000-square-foot West Conservatory, set off by its asymmetrical peaks and islands of interior Mediterranean-inspired gardens that will be set amid pools, canals and fountains in an exquisite tapestry-like design;
  • The relocation of the historic, 3,800-square-foot Cascade Garden – designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx;
  • A new outdoor Bonsai Courtyard, an outdoor gallery space that will showcase what will become one of North America’s most prominent bonsai collections;
  • The redevelopment of the Waterlily Court, an aquatic garden that will be redefined as an outdoor room;
  • A new public restaurant and private event space that will offer priceless views of events at the Main Fountain Garden; and 
  • The expansion of The Grove, a facility that will offer new state-of-the-art studios, virtual learning studios, a library, staff offices and serve as a communal hub of learning and growth.

At a behind-the-scenes look at the project’s progress on Oct. 20, tours were conducted of all locations by representatives from all aspects of the project’s development: Longwood Gardens, Bancroft Construction Company in Wilmington, Del., Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects of Cambridge, Mass. and Weiss/Manfredi, a New York City-based architectural design firm.

For Bancroft Construction, who renovated the garden’s fountain area a few years ago, Longwood Reimagined is the largest project ever undertaken by the company. 

“One of the biggest challenges is that we have 190,000 square feet of building in multiple different construction types – from steel and glass in the new conservatory to the steel that will be used in the construction for the Grove, so they’re all unique,” said Tony Ingram, Bancroft project manager of Longwood Reimagined. “It will be nearly six years that I will have worked on this project, so I look forward to seeing the accomplishment made from the planning and coordinating and designing done between our trade partners we have worked with and see it all come to life.”

“The most important aspect of a job of this size is to have everyone on the same page with the same vision, so we rely heavily on everyone who has influence over the design process – both the client who has a vision as well as architects and engineers whose job is to put the vision into reality,” said Greg Sawka, Bancroft’s president and CEO. “The building plans have been straightforward. They tell us to build this rectangle or this pyramid and make it this tall and this wide and paint it white, and that’s easy, but when there are thousands of these plans all interconnecting with one another, it’s important to ask what the steps are and then how do they interact act with each other at the right time.

“I think Longwood has done a great job of getting that right. We’ve had a construction manager here from Day One, so we’re really adding value to the project.”

One of the most inspiring design aspects of the 17-acre project is that it is incorporating the rolling landscape of Longwood’s outer property into the overall vista of the gardens – as seen best from The Grove.

“One of the things that is important is that we are making certain areas accessible to the public that hadn’t previously been made accessible,” said Michael Manfredi. “The view to the valley (beyond Conservatory Road) is an homage to this beautiful part of the country. It will provide a new set of opportunities for people who will be inspired by its traditional beauty. It’s a beauty that’s unique to this part of the country.”

Throughout the construction of Longwood Reimagined, Sawka has brought several members of his family and friends to view the progress being made on the massive project.

“I love to tell them, ‘See that?  See that over there?’” he said. “It’s the culmination of our relationship with Longwood and our journey through their entire Master Plan. To have a glimpse of this a decade ago as to what it would be, and then to continue the relationship and be a part of it has been inspirational for me. It has been transformational for our firm and in particular our team. They get the privilege of living this job for four years.

“But it’s really for the next 50 years that people are going to enjoy the beauty, the art and the nature of this project.”

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