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Pennsylvania: Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservancy, in Pittsburgh, was an immense conservatory — but contemporary, efficient and built for holding events as well as being a botanical garden. It seemed endlessly large. They have heated sidewalks that don’t require shoveling (or salt!). It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from Longwood gardens — and at the opposite end of the state. The original structure was built in 1893, but  its innovative additions and LEED-certification makes it a building for the future.

This immense, almost three-story tall Chihuly chandelier hangs over the Welcome Center lobby.

I think the ingenious part of the design (and business plan) of this botanical garden is in its double use as a wedding / event / convention center. When we were there, two weddings were going on, one indoors, one out — but you hardly knew it. The main “Welcome Center” reception hall is a beautiful, mall-like space (I know — oxymoron) with temporary art exhibitions, information desk, large coat-check, cafe and the obligatory gift shop (but in this case, the gift shop was NOT and afterthought, it was well-designed as well).

They are lucky to be in a beautiful park setting that is very near the Carnegie Museums, Cathedral of Learning, Hunt Institute, and Schenley Park. As a matter of fact, we hadn’t planned on going there, but we could see it from the top of the Cathedral of Learning tower and decided to go, since it was so close (and 42 stories down). They are lucky that their dramatically large rooms & spaces allow large scale exhibitions. When we were there, there was an exhibition of glass works — extra-terrestrials, botanically-correct glass plants, organic gestures, and jesters — incorporated into the gardens throughout the building.

A room devoted to life-like glass botanic recreations reminded me of a glass exhibit I visited at the Corning Glass Museum. As little as 200 years ago, the only way to study plants from distant places & climates was from visiting them, drawings and anatomically-correct glass reproductions.

I enjoyed the building’s seeming use as a botanic garden, contemporary art museum, and public/private meeting space. Every city should have a space like this incorporated into their central core. Why have a deadly, dull, convention center, open only on occasion, when you can incorporate life and art in to a vibrant public meeting space, open to the public every day? Doesn’t that make economic sense as well? Buffalo take note.

 
Some of the more organic glass sculptures were very close to awesome…
 
Some, like the spiral-o’jesters, required a little more interpretation…
 
But sometimes the setting made up for any weirdness…
Then again, weirdness works for aliens…
 
The organic shapes and colors interspersed throughout the gardens are what attracted me more. They didn’t seem like they were working to hard to be beautiful or thoughtful, or something I would want in my garden.
 
If I remember correctly, these large glass cubes spun right round, baby, right round like a record baby, right round round round.
 
Understated and understood.
Cool dividing wall in the Children’s garden.
 
Beneficial bugs & bees were the theme of the kid’s garden.
 
I like the contrast of natural vs. industrial. Why pretend I’m in a forested glade listening to a tranquil waterfall, when I know I’m not?
In many of the ponds and water features, there were beautiful glass baskets. The reflections made them twice as interesting.
 
Jesters-balls-n-water were much better than the jesters among the plants. The jesters though, overall, just didn’t do it for me.
 
The aliens always seemed to look at home though.

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

2 comments on “Pennsylvania: Phipps Conservatory

  1. Pingback: Chihuly Garden and Glass visit

  2. Delighted that you enjoyed The Phipps so much, Jim! Really one of the treasures of our city and also offers great educational gardening classes for adults and children.

    Like

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