Orchid Educational Pavilion

The Orchid Educational Pavilion is located in the Ethnobotanical Gardens in Oaxaca, Mexico within the walls of the Church and former Monastery Santo Domingo de Guzman (1572-1666).

It sits within one of the most biologically diverse ecologies in the world and as part of an ensemble of cultural experiences.  Mexican Artists Francisco Toledo and Luis Zárate and the Anthropologist and Biologist, Alejandro de Avila began creating the cultural ensemble that would become the Botanical Gardens of Santo Domingo in the summer of 1994.  They hoped to crown their achievement with a pavilion for growing diverse species, conducting experiments, and teaching the community.

The Orchid Educational Pavilion is intended to support the conditions for growing diverse species through sustainable systems (zero energy) while being a minimally invasive building. It is designed as an interactive tool to educate future generations in the vastness of the biodiversity of the region and inspire broader implantation of sustainable architecture.  The small amount of energy it needs for its passive cooling and irrigation systems is provided by remote solar panels and a geothermal system.  At the same time, modular units allow the structure to be extended, dismantled, or moved entirely if necessary.

The Pavilion provides a unique experience within the Botanical Gardens through its materiality and the way that it frames its context. An entirely self-sustaining ecosystem, it challenges visitors to consider how they might live in a more sustainable manner as well as to reflect on what is required to sustain the life of delicate species and that might be required to sustain our own delicate existence in the future.

The idea of total transparency was critical in the design.  The flooring planks for the staircase and the viewing platform are an open grid to allow light and views from all directions into the chambers.   Its design is based on five elements: the west chamber (hot chamber), the east chamber (cool chamber), the central staircase (which collects rainfall), the viewing platform, and the geothermal system.  The east and west chambers are rectangular glass boxes oriented on the north-south axis to provoke natural cross ventilation. They are located on either side of the central staircase and designed to run on very different thermal criteria. The conditioning is provided through a geothermal system that injects cold air into the chambers from the underground soil via 2 air-handling units that are powered by solar panels.  The central staircase brings the visitors through the chambers up to the viewing platform from where stunning views into the church and the botanical gardens can be experienced as well an opportunity to contemplate the curated plant content from an elevated perspective.  Underneath the staircase, rainfall is collected and stored to be used by the evaporative cooling system that supports the cooling and irrigation systems.  In addition, the majority of the building has been hand-crafted, manufactured and assembled on site by artisans from Oaxaca.

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