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Steel Shots: Steel and Green(ery)
Posted by Geoff Weisenberger on June 24, 2011 at 1:13 PM.


The Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago is one of the largest in the United States. (Click on photo for another, closer view.)


Not long ago, I visited the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago’s West Side. It wasn’t my first visit; I’ve been many times. I’ve also paid multiple visits to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a few miles away on Chicago’s lakefront, as well as several other nature conservatories throughout the country. I love conservatories. Any time of year, you can wander into one and temporarily feel like you’re in the middle of a tropical rainforest—which is particularly nice during the frigid Chicago winters. Snow and below-freezing temperatures outside? No problem, just step on in and you’re whisked away to Borneo.


Whether it’s one of these two Chicago conservatories or any other, there’s no denying that they all have a similar look and feel, which is clearly tied to their functionality—lots of glass, thin framing for the glass and little else, so as to let in as much sunlight as possible. And that framing is typically iron or steel. We frequently tout how steel is great for projects that want to maximize daylighting opportunities. Well, no facility type needs more daylighting than a conservatory or greenhouse; steel is ideal for these structures.


Given my position as the sustainability go-to person for AISC, I’m bombarded with green marketing and messages from every arm of the construction industry and beyond. Seemingly every company incorporates artistic renderings of trees or leaves in their green marketing materials, hoping to convince you that their product is good—or at least isn’t bad—for the environment. In a way, conservatories play a similar role, albeit in three dimensions and high humidity as opposed to pixels or paper, as they provide an in-the-flesh connection between steel and the environment. And when you think about it, each one is basically a case study of steel protecting nature. (Hmm, I like this as a marketing message. . . )


At the very least, lush foliage in the foreground, bright skies in the background and elegant steel framing in between make for some pretty pictures.


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