Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam

Saving the old botanical garden

The glasshouse for the Amsterdam botanical garden, dating from 1993, is one of the earliest significant projects the architectural studio ZJA designed. The renowned university botanical garden dates from 1682 and due to austerity measures a large section of the greenhouses had to be demolished. The Association of Friends of the Botanical Garden however raised funds to rescue a part of the collection and give it a home in a new glasshouse.

Conceiving this design ZJA worked with elements that are frequently used in commercial greenhouses, but the constructive principles applied are radically different. The glasshouse has a height ranging from 4 to 11 meters and is divided into three climate zones (tropical, subtropical and desert) and covers an area of 1.500 square meters. It is supported by an exoskeleton of steel elements. The columns work as pressure rods, with slimmer rods putting the entire construction under pretension. This tensegrity principle enables a design that is light and allows for a large variety of shapes and a maximum access of daylight. The walls separating the climate zones are also made of glass. In that way an impressive free space is created where light enters from all directions.

Smart and inviting

The enormous clear surface is created by a smart contemporary structure that miraculously suits the ancient location. The glasshouse of the botanical garden borders a waterway in the old part of Amsterdam, in between Jonas Daniël Meyerplein and the Plantage Middenlaan. All around one finds historical buildings with their characteristic shapes and proportions. They date from the seventeenth to late nineteenth centuries. The curved Iines, the colour of the bricks and stones, their height and relationship to the street, it all makes up the atmosphere where the glasshouse of the botanical garden should blend into. The water of the river and the canal reflects the light and provides extra spaciousness.

The glasshouse’s design, as for lay out and silhouette, is adapted to the location and its historical nature. The shape of the glasshouse changes in height and follows the silhouette of the facades on the canal. It also shields off an interior garden, just like the houses across the water do. On the garden side the glasshouse in lower, to let the sun in and create a more intimate setting.

A special feature is the footbridge built with a glass floor that offers the visitors of the glasshouse a birds-eye view. This distinctive element emphasizes the idea behind this ZJA design: to create a pleasant, instructive and engaging spatial experience with smart and minimal means. The footbridge gives an extra opportunity to experience this very special environment and the closeness of the many exotic plants.

Architect: ZJA
Client: Stichting interimbeheer Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam
Engineering: ABT Velp
Design: 1990-1992
Inauguration: 1993

Project: 0025


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