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Virtual Greenhouse Workshop

In Honor of Earth Day 2021; How Does Your Garden Grow Tabletop Greenhouse Workshop

Young designers share their greenhouse projects

In a nod to Earth Day’s mission of educating and activating the environmental movement worldwide, ArchForKids hosted one of their most popular workshops, How Does Your Garden Grow? Tabletop Greenhouses on April 22, Earth Day 2021. This virtual event, sponsored by the wonderful Greenwich Library, was free to participants. Children grade 3 and up learned architectural concepts like structural stability, framing, shapes, and model building all while creating their very own working greenhouse. The fun did not stop there though, as the instruction also included a lesson in planting seeds and bulbs to be grown inside their creations!

Young designers share their greenhouse projects

You might ask yourself how greenhouses fit into the environmental movement and just how they help with creating a more sustainable lifestyle. As you might guess, these structures are the very essence of green living, allowing crops to be grown locally year-round. With a history dating back to the ancient Romans, greenhouses have provided people with vegetables, fruits, and flowers throughout every season by providing a special environment protecting plants from heat and cold, as well as offering protection from pests and predators. From those first rudimentary Roman structures, the greenhouse has continued to evolve over the centuries.

Improvements in technology have turned greenhouses into architectural marvels that intrigue and fascinate people the world over.  For example, in his Sangayorok document written during Korea’s Joseon dynasty during the 1450s, Soon ui Jeon describes artificially heated greenhouses that utilized sophisticated gardening techniques to grow vegetables and fruit for the royal table. In 1681, the first stove heated greenhouse in the UK was created at the Chelsea Physic Garden and used to grow medicinal plants.

Historical Greenhouse

The Palm House, Botanic Garden at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, 1874

With the advent of newer and better glass material, along with technologically improved construction techniques, greenhouse structures grew grander and more innovative over the years. They first made their way to the Americas in the 1700s and President George Washington was an early adopter. The large brick and glass greenhouse at his Mt. Vernon home was completed in 1787 and he delighted visitors with lemons, oranges, and even pineapples all year long by using an ingenious radiant heating system that piped warm air under the floors.

But it was perhaps during the Victorian era when these structures reached a zenith, with numerous outstanding examples of grand and beautiful greenhouses built around the world.

Historical Greenhouse

Palm House at Schönbrunn Palace Park in Vienna 1880s


Historical Greenhouse

Historical Victorian style greenhouse

Of note, New York was home to one of the most magnificent greenhouse structures in America, the famed Crystal Palace.  It was originally built as the centerpiece for America’s first World’s Fair in 1853. Designed by architects Georg J.B. Carstensen and Charles Gildermeister, the design was in the shape of a Greek cross and the frame was made of steel and cast iron, crowned with an enormous glass dome at its center.

Crystal Palace NY Greenhouse

Photo Credit: NYPL Digital Archives (see citations at end of post)

Hailed as a modern marvel, the Crystal Palace drew visitors by the score to New York City. Alas, it was completely destroyed just four years later by a raging fire of unknown origins.

Skipping ahead to the modern era, an architectural style called the geodesic dome has proven to be a popular shape for greenhouses constructed from a variety of materials. First developed in America by architect R. Buckminster Fuller, this building style inspired St. Louis architects Murphy and Mackey to create an impressive dome called the Climatron, housed at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The structure is enormous, enclosing more than half an acre, rising 70 feet tall, and spanning 175 feet in diameter.

Built in 1960, the extraordinary building won the 1961 Reynolds Award for architectural excellence in its use of aluminum and according to the Missouri Botanical Gardens website, was named one of the ten most significant architectural achievements in United States history.  After extensive renovations in 1988, the structure began the 1990s with a new set of cutting-edge technological improvements, including unique heat-strengthened glass coated with special low-emissivity film that reduces operating costs by retaining solar energy collected during the day for use at night.

Geodesic dome greenhouse

Geodesic Dome Greenhouse

Geodesic domes make for extremely strong greenhouses and are so popular that they have been built from a vast array of materials including wood, bamboo, PVC (polyvinylchloride), metal and various other types of plastics and vinyls. Children and teens in previous greenhouse workshops hosted by ArchForKids have even built inspiring tabletop versions of geodesic domes out of plastic straws. Covered in plastic, these tabletop buildings are miniature marvels, and can be used to grow single plants inside their cozy confines. Who knows what the next two thousand years hold in store for new generations of greenhouse buildings, but it’s sure to be exciting and innovative!

Young designers share their greenhouse projects


Crystal Palace Photo Credit:

Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “New York Crystal Palace, interior view” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1854. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/903a4c28-031f-6633-e040-e00a18065402

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. (1858-10-05 – 1899). Burning of the New York Crystal Palace, on Tuesday Oct. 5th, 1858. During its occupation for the annual fair of the American Institute Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-ba0f-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1854). The New York Crystal Palace. Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-cc9b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99