Orquideorama, by Plan B Architects + JPRCR Arquitectos , in Medellin, Colombia. One of the most important aspects of good design is the understanding of context. Context involves an understanding of the surrounding scale, aesthetics, and climate, but can extend beyond to include the essential character of a place or the processes that are inherent to that specific environment. Without this understanding, designers cannot create good design solutions. An understanding of context also allows designers to look at the relationship between the artificial and the natural environment, providing an essential link between man and nature. Orquideorama by Plan B Architects has taken the understanding of context and has re-interpreted it in a manner that transcends design boundaries in an organic yet geometric way.
A Garden Canopy
Orquideorama is essentially a large timber and steel canopy located in the Botanical Gardens of Medellin, in Colombia. The gardens are home to more than 1,000 species of animals and more than 4,500 species of plants, showcasing the natural environment found only in Colombia and South America. The design of Orquideorama was intended to take the botanical gardens into the 21st century, while at the same time paying homage to Jose Jeronimo Triana, a Colombian botanist, naturalist, physicist, chemist, and researcher. Orquideorama was opened in 2006 and has successfully managed to draw the public into the gardens.
The Concept of Flower-trees
The concept behind the canopy was to blend architecture with the natural world by uniting cellular and architectural forms. The design concept looked to the inspiration of the honeycomb, and translated it into a modular system of 14 interconnected, hexagonal “flower-trees”. These organic yet geometric units (or “flor-arbols”) are composed of a steel-reinforced trunk and six hexagonal petals clad in reclaimed pine to form a latticed canopy. Architects Felipe Mesa and Alexander Bernal envisioned these structures to grow in the same way that a garden and seeds develop, responding to the needs of the botanical garden context as necessary.
Beauty in the Details
The true beauty of this project lies in the translation of the concept into a highly technical and well-detailed design. By using steel as the support structure, the “petals” could span a large area, creating ample areas of usable space beneath. The steel supports then received translucent roofing structure, which provided protection from the elements while allowing rain water to funnel into the trunks.This water is stored and dispersed to the vegetation as necessary, allowing for specific habitats to be created for the gardens. Habitat beneath the canopy is further controlled by the varying transparency of timber slats woven beneath and around the steel structure. In this way, the canopy creates an environmental filter, blurring the line between building and landscape. As a result, the space beneath the canopy provides an ideal habitat for sensitive vegetation and, at the same time, accommodates functions such as events and even a butterfly sanctuary. The design of the structures also allows for some trunks to form functional spaces, including a café, bathrooms, and administrative areas.
An Extension of the Forest
Orquideorama is breathtaking. The 50-foot-high canopy creates an extension of the surrounding forest, drawing from the natural aesthetics and translating this into a highly geometric pattern. This pattern and its contrasting materials of timber and steel juxtapose to the existing natural context, highlighting the beauty of the surroundings while creating its own beauty within. At night, the tree-like structures are lit from below, generating an atmospheric image of the highly contemporary structure sitting within the darkened natural forest. See More Articles:
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Design to Mimic Nature
In some ways, this project could be said to be a form of biomimicry. The architects considered the context by looking to the natural environment for inspiration and formal guidance. They took this concept further by looking at the process of planting a botanical garden and translated this into a formal structure that can grow and interconnect as time passes.The structures themselves also respond directly to the environment, by softly placing the minimal number of footprints into the environment, creating an inside-outside space that merges both natural and artificial. The combination of the natural aesthetics that mimic the surrounding forest and the use of delicate timber provides an atmosphere that is natural, yet artificial and completely contemporary. Orquideorama speaks of the experience of landscape. It allows visitors to become aware of the natural environment as they step beneath the large canopy. They enter the space in the same way as a tiny insect would travel beneath the flowers, protected from the elements by the petals above and part of the environment. Surely this is contextual enough?
WATCH: Orquideorama, Jardin Botanico Medellin
Full Project Credits for Orquideorama
Name: Orquideorama Designers: Plan:b Arquitectos (Felipe Mesa + Alejandro Bernal) + JPRCR Arquitectos (Camilo Restrepo + JPaul Restrepo). Location: Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia Client: Medellin Botanical Garden Builder: Ménsula S.A. Area: 4200m2 Project Year: 2005 Use: Orchid and garden exhibitions; other exhibits. Varied events (concerts, weddings, parties, fairs). Price per square meter: US$: 500 Ecosystem: Humid Pre-Montane Forest Elevation (above sea level): 1460m Temperature: 16-29ºC; Humidity (Rel): 68% Facing: All directions Direction of wind: North- South Structure: Steel columns and beams. Trusses. Materials: Harvested wood linings; concrete pavement, steel and polycarbonate roof tiling. Work team: Design team: Viviana Peña, Catalina Patiño, Carolina Gutiérrez, Lina Gil, Jorge Buitrago Structural engineer: Germán Serrate Recommended Reading
- Landscape Architecture: An Introduction by Robert Holden
- Landscape Architecture, Fifth Edition: A Manual of Environmental Planning and Design by Barry Starke
Article by Rose Buchanan