Polycarbonate walls surround the buildings of the Phoenix Botanical Garden

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American companies 180 Degrees and CoLab Studio have created an educational facility and greenhouse in the Arizona desert with polycarbonate facades that bring soft daylight inside.


The Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science is located in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Local companies 180 Degrees and CoLab Studio worked with the garden to design a master plan for the 85,000 square foot (7,897 square meters) central campus.

The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Phoenix, Arizona

“This horticultural campus is the heart of the Desert Botanical Garden, offering world-class facilities promoting the art and science of nurturing the garden’s famous collection of plants,” the team said.

Since the approval of the master plan, three buildings have been completed: Greenhouse West, the Marley Horticulture Learning Lab and the Ahearn Desert Conservation Laboratory. Future installations include a parent company and additional greenhouses.

Sawtooth roof on the greenhouse
The facility includes a large greenhouse

At 5,184 square feet (482 square meters), the West Greenhouse is the largest of the new structures. It contains space for the cultivation of various species of cacti, including rare specimens.

The steel frame plant is coated with white polycarbonate, a material that diffuses diffused light into the grow room. The building is capped with a sawtooth roof and above it a large metal canopy with perforated aluminum slats that move.

Desert Conservation Laboratory
Sunset at Desert Conservation Laboratory

At ground level are two metal cylinders for storing rainwater, which is used inside the greenhouse.

Covering 1,728 square feet (161 square meters), the Learning Lab provides space for lectures, workshops, and lab work.

Colored polycarbonate panels
The Learning Lab is covered with colored polycarbonate panels

Rectangular in plan, the building has a sloping roof. Enveloping the exterior, polycarbonate panels in shades of gray, blue and green.

On the south elevation, reclaimed wood fins help shade a row of slit windows. The glazed openings on the north and east facades of the building provide transparency and connection with the exterior.

The final building is the Desert Conservation Lab, which totals 2,200 square feet (204 square meters). Roughly trapezoidal in plan, the building has an exterior made of galvanized steel and copper.

The horticultural campus buildings are interwoven with walkways, desert landscaping, and shaded areas for a break. Particular attention has been paid to the separation of public campus structures, such as the Learning Lab, from facilities of a more operational nature.

Blooming plants in the establishment's greenhouse
Native plants grow in the greenhouse

“The garden needed a way to separate ‘front of the house’ operations from ‘back of the house’ operations at the horticultural center, while still allowing some degree of public access,” the team said.

Therefore, stretching across the campus is the Great Wall of Rocks, a high wall made up of 24 boulders and a series of gabion cages.

Rocks at the facility
The rocks came from a quarry in Arizona

Each rock is partly buried underground in order to support its weight. To create the wall, more than 436 tonnes of rock was extracted from a quarry in Kingman, Arizona.

“Garden volunteers installed PVC irrigation pockets inside the gabions to create vertical gardens that simulate desert canyon microclimates that native species might happily cling to,” the team said.

The great wall of rocks
They form the Great Wall of Boulders, which stretches across campus

Other projects involving plants include a botanical garden in China that includes three giant domed greenhouses and a greenhouse with sliding mesh walls that has been added to an office building in Santa Monica.

The photograph is by Bill Timmerman.


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