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.
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.