Lucille Halsell Conservatory | Emilio Ambasz & Associates

San Antonio / United States / 1982

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3 Love 1,381 Visits Published

The Lucille Halsell Conservatory is a complex of greenhouses located in the hot, dry climate of southern Texas. Unlike northern climates, where traditionally glazed greenhouses maximize sunlight, the climate of San Antonio requires that plants be shielded from the sun.


This proposal uses the earth as a container and protector of the plants, controlling light and heat levels by limiting glazed areas to the roof. Since it is sheltered by earth berms, the conservatory preserves and harmonizes with the gently rolling hills around it. While the glazing is used as a cover for the earthen container, the roof is raised in places to accommodate tall plants. The varied forms of these peaks take advantage of prevailing conditions and orientation to the sun, and give the roofs a hieratic presence as an arrangement of secular temples sitting serenely in the landscape.


The different rooms within the center are organized around a garden patio, or courtyard, typical of Texas vernacular architecture, affording access to the different greenhouses under a shaded arcade, unifying the various buildings. Each room can thus be treated as a separate building, with its own special climatic conditions and spatial configuration. This imparts a processional quality to the sequence of circulation through the conservatory: the entrance pavilion with a symbolic tree; the long, narrow orangery lined with fruit trees; the peaceful fern room with its water cascades and mists; and the rooms with special environments. This procession culminates in the grand palm court where a ramp wraps around the forest of trees, allowing people to move smoothly to the roof where they can view the plants from above, Thus transforming a theoretically small construction into a structure of much grander scale.


The project provides a unique architectural solution to the problem of designing a greenhouse in a hot, dry climate. While recognizing regional vernacular in organizing the buildings around a courtyard with a shaded arcade, the treatment of the earth as a container and glazing as merely a cover with additional peaks which reduce the amount of sunlight. This allows the complex to harmonize with its surroundings and enhances it with sculptural objects.

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    The Lucille Halsell Conservatory is a complex of greenhouses located in the hot, dry climate of southern Texas. Unlike northern climates, where traditionally glazed greenhouses maximize sunlight, the climate of San Antonio requires that plants be shielded from the sun. This proposal uses the earth as a container and protector of the plants, controlling light and heat levels by limiting glazed areas to the roof. Since it is sheltered by earth berms, the conservatory preserves and harmonizes...

    Project details
    • Year 1982
    • Work finished in 1982
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Music schools/Music academies
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