Within the Orto Botanico in Padua, Italy—a walled garden built by the University of Padua in 1545 for medicinal plant research—survives a 450 year old Mediterranean Palm (Chamaerops humilis) known as Goethe’s Palm. This specimen served as one of the inspirations for Johann von Goethe’s theory on botanical morphology, enumerated in the text The Metamorphosis of Plants from 1790. To protect the specimen over the centuries, university gardeners constructed a series of temporary and permanent palm houses, producing an index of the changing relationship between a living ecosystem and the technical, environmental, and material conditions required for its care.
Continuing these four centuries of preservation and pedagogy, PALM-HOUSE proposes three future prototypes to house this specimen. While greenhouse architectures often represent a problematic conflation of colonial extraction and ecological optimization, these prototypes instead make visible the environmental disruptions of climate change that threaten the future survival of the palm. Each of the three prototypes subtly mediates the palm’s environment, deploying the tectonic and environmental systems used in greenhouses to bring into focus the conditions required for the palm’s future survival. For instance, the structures allow caretakers to adjust air schedules, curate atmospheric compositions, filter pollutants, and balance UV radiation. They incorporate motorized filtration panels, mobile grow light walls, solar shields, and pneumatic tubes expelling gaseous mixtures, protecting the palm from the increasing frequency of heatwaves, cold spells, droughts, toxic clouds, and extreme rainfall events. Critically, these enclosures are not closed worlds creating ideal interior climates. They allow pollinators, atmospheres, and the increasingly hostile environment to continue to shape a living organism. PALM-HOUSE reimagines the historic preservation of a plant—not through the recreation of a past climate but instead through a demonstration of the life support systems necessary for its future survival. Fundamentally, the project asks: In the face of extinction, what are the costs, means, and methods of perpetual care?
PALM-HOUSE was exhibited at Citygroup in NYC, November 2020 - February 2021
Project Leads: Daniel Jacobs, Brittany Utting
Design Team: Jianing Cui, Tiffany Xu, Clara Núñez-Regueiro, Leah Hong