It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
March 12, 2007 12:08 AM   Subscribe

A very brief history of conservatories, and another. And little more on orangeries.
More than just a place to keep plants warm, conservatories peaked in popularity (and size) in the second half of the 19th century. They popped up all over Europe, wherever elites wanted to show off their 'exotic' plunders. Made from more than a million feet of glass, the Crystal Palace may have been the awesomest of them all: it was initially built to showcase the wonders of Victorian England, and its exhibits included the latest technological innovations, the largest organ in the world, a circus, objects from Australia, India, and other colonial lands, along with the many tropical plant species we usually associate with big glass buildings. The whole thing was later moved to South London and eventually housed a television station and became associated with a well-known football club. Finally, it burned to the ground in 1936. Coincidentally, Munich's copycat, the Glaspalast was destroyed by arson as well. (But each year's catalog of exhibits has been digitized!) Conservatories flourish in North America as well. San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers was assembled from a kit, survived the '06 earthquake, but had to be rebuilt after successive explosions, fires, rotten wood, and a massive wind-storm. (Don't miss their cooking tips, but watch out – their site may be NSFW.) And although they certainly aren't as popular as they used to be, contemporary conservatories can be found. Before you leave the world of glass houses, take a quick look at some photos of Detroit's hidden treasure.
posted by serazin (14 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. That took up slightly more space than intended. Not sure how to edit since the stronger links are at the bottom. Bummer.
posted by serazin at 12:20 AM on March 12, 2007

These computer generated 3d renderings of what the Crystal Palace looked like are pretty cool. It gives you a good idea of the massive size.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:11 AM on March 12, 2007

Oh and I do find it a little disturbing/ironic when viewing those renderings that the equivalent "great buildings" of our age are probably Ikeas or Mall of Americas, rather that greenhouses.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:19 AM on March 12, 2007

I took a few snaps of what was left of the orangeries at witley court earlier this spring.
posted by srboisvert at 3:01 AM on March 12, 2007

Well as a life-long member of the Conservatory Party, I heartily endorse both this post and a low-taxation fiscal environment that will stimulate productivity and bring about a merit-based society that respects traditional oranges.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:19 AM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Surely the most equivalent "great structures" are just modern greenhoused botanical gardens, or modern production greenhouses.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:46 AM on March 12, 2007

Gorgeous, I'll have to visit Anna Scripps Whitcom Conservatory when I visit my folks. I've never heard of it and I'm fortunate to have cousins who love everything about the Metro Detroit area and introduced me to a lot of interesting places.
posted by substrate at 6:12 AM on March 12, 2007

The third link is awesome just for answering the question of what they called orange (the color) before people knew what oranges (the fruits) were.
posted by casarkos at 6:24 AM on March 12, 2007

Yes, quidnunc, but I see no mention of any newts roving around in those conservatories.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:41 AM on March 12, 2007

There's a very nice one just down the street from where I work.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:49 AM on March 12, 2007

Wait a minute.... Isn't that where Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Body with the lead pipe?

I don't know about you guys, but I'm staying the hell out of the conservatory.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:27 AM on March 12, 2007

-5 for quoting Billly Joel.
posted by RockCorpse at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2007

Well, it probably won't be more than a few decades before orangeries return to England, but this time they won't have to have that irritatingly fragile and expensive glass-- the trees will be plenty warm without it.

Which brings me to a contemporary great structure: the Boeing assembly plant in Everett, Washington, with a volume of 470 million cubic feet, said to be the largest building in the world.
posted by jamjam at 6:26 PM on March 12, 2007

Things I know about conservatories (thanks to working for a UK company that deals in conservatory accessories for nearly 2 years):

1) Planning permission is a test from the gods. If you pass the delays, the rejections, the appeals and the redesigns, you are truly one of the elite.

2) Your builders will delay the build for at least a month. And you will hate the very sight of them by the time it's finished.

3) Once built, the conservatory will probably leak when it rains.

4) If you think you can get anything of quality built for under £5000, you're kidding yourself.

6) South facing? Are you batshit insane? Do you enjoy sweating between the months of March and October? Oh, you don't? Look forward to spending a couple of grand on specialised blinds for your sun trap by the time June comes around!

7) In the winter, it will be a cold cold place where you banish the dog when it pees on the hallway rug.

I have heard many tales of woe from the unfortunate folk that decide they're a worthwhile addition to their houses. Although I have seen some beautiful conservatories, you couldn't pay me enough to go through the hassle they involve. Extend your kitchen, redesign your garden... do something, anything aside from get one for your residential house.
posted by saturnine at 6:00 PM on March 13, 2007

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