On Thursday, April 26, students, horticulturists and alumnae gathered to listen as the faculty and staff of the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens hosted an information session delivering extensive history and future plans of Wellesley’s Greenhouses — in particular the Global Flora Project.
The Global Flora is a project whose ultimate mission is to reconstruct the five major houses in the Ferguson Greenhouse complex. The complex is the vision of Margaret Ferguson, an established American Botanist known for advancing scientific education in the field of botany, creating ‘laboratories under glass’ into the 21st century and supplying new housing for ‘botany museum’ objects of artistic and scientific interest. Despite the qualms the student body has about recent reconstruction efforts, the Global Flora project has demonstrated a promising future, worthy of full support by students at Wellesley College.
Because the need for constructing new greenhouses is so urgent, the faculty at the Botanic Gardens has responded in a timely fashion. Robert Nicholson, the botanical collections manager, spoke about their efforts to maximize scientific utility through the architectural design of the greenhouse, as well as curating a diverse range of flora, soils and even rocks. The project’s team is also seeking to achieve its mission of making the new greenhouse one of the most spectacular and environmentally-efficient conservatories in the state of Massachusetts.
Despite the tremendous efforts made by the team advancing the botanic gardens, there seems to be a general misunderstanding among the student body over the implications of the Global Flora Project. Some students wonder what the project will mean for the classrooms in the upcoming academic year, while in reality, the greenhouse construction is a completely separate project from the efforts to improve the science labs. With many questions revolving around the rising tuition costs, others misinterpret the Global Flora Project as one of the elements that played a significant role in the tuition increase. However, the botanic gardens took on this project in 2005 with the understanding that the greenhouses urgently needed to be replaced and received the budget several years ago, which has recently been approved. Gail Kahn, the assistant director of the Botanic Gardens, explained that the college allocated $8 million to replacing the collections greenhouses in 2012. Based on early plans, the project was funded by two generous alumnae as a first step towards the major construction of the greenhouses. As such, speculations about the relationship between the Flora Project and either the science center renovations or the tuition increase are unfounded.
According to Kristina Jones, director of the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens, this project is not only making good use of Wellesley’s financial resources, but it is also environmentally sustainable in its use of energy and water. For instance, the project uses new roof material called Ethylene Tetra Flouro Ethylene (ETFE), which is a film-like material that is easily formed and shaped; rather than needing to be held up like traditional glass, ETFE is relatively lightweight, so much less steel and structure is needed for this construction. The project also intends to minimize energy use and capture rain water, which will be used for irrigation. All of these design elements demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability. One of the central goals of the faculty and staff of the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens is to have a greenhouse that uses net-zero water and net-zero energy, meaning it will hold and produce as much water and energy on site as it uses. The group also intends to register the new greenhouses for the Living Building Challenge, an international sustainable building program in the near future.
The new greenhouses will directly affect students in a myriad of ways, such as allowing them to access high-quality data through devices such as root imaging tubes and sensors placed in the soil. This will allow for real-time monitoring of environmental factors and new mediums for academic exploration. The new greenhouses will also be structured to be classroom-friendly and collaborative, with open spaces to allow groups to gather. The Global Flora Project team hopes to begin planting one year from now. It also has high hopes of getting students involved with the beginning of the new greenhouse as official members of the team.
The Global Flora greenhouse will be a showcase for the college community of the unique diversity and range of the College’s beautiful plant collection. It will also be a new junction for interdisciplinary science research, teaching and learning, as well as an innovative example of sustainable design that will help the environment. The voices and interests of students, who asked for more learning opportunities salient to 21st century technologies, have been heard throughout the years. The need for a new architectural design has been met and the sustainability criterion have been fully accounted for. Now, it is time for students to come together to fully support the project as we anticipate the unique Global Flora Project contributing to our campus.