Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

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Dome-shaped glass building
Haupt Conservatory in summer

The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is a greenhouse in the Bronx, New York, United States, a major part of the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). Inspiration for the park and the conservatory stemmed from Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife Elizabeth. The couple had visited the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew on their honeymoon and thought a similar park and conservatory should be built for New York City.[1] The NYBG and the Conservatory were the result.

The conservatory was designed by the major greenhouse company of the time, Lord and Burnham Co. The design was modeled after the Palm House at the Royal Botanic Garden and Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace in Italian Renaissance style.[1] Groundbreaking took place on January 3, 1899 and construction was completed in 1902 at a cost of $177,000.[1] The building was constructed by John R. Sheehan under contract for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.[2] Since the original construction, major renovations took place in 1935, 1950, 1978, and 1993.[1]

By the 1970s, the building was in a state of extreme disrepair and had to be either substantially rebuilt or torn down. Enid Annenberg Haupt saved the conservatory from demolition with a $5 million contribution for renovation and a $5 million endowment for maintenance of the building. A subsequent renovation, which started in 1978, restored the conservatory closer to its original design, which had been compromised during the 1935 and 1950 renovations.[3] Due to her generous contributions, the Conservatory was named the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in 1978.[4]

The 1993 renovation replaced the inner workings of the conservatory. At this time, the mechanical systems to control temperature, humidity, and ventilation were upgraded to computerized systems. The exhibits were also redesigned.[5] The conservatory serves as a focal point of the park and a center for education. It is a New York City landmark.


While the creation of the New York Botanical Garden was inspired by Nathaniel and Elizabeth Britton's visit to the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew, its creation was dependent on a complex series of events. As early as 1877, ideas were circulating in New York City to create a botanical garden; funding could not be obtained at the time, although the efforts led to parkland being set aside for future use. Ultimately, authorization to set aside 250 acres (1.0 km2) specifically for a New York Botanical Garden was received in 1891. The principal officers of the new corporation set up for the garden were Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan, with Nathaniel Lord Britton as the new secretary.[6] From this beginning, the NYBG was established:

... for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a botanical garden and museum and arboretum therein, for the collection of and culture of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees, the advancement of botanical science and knowledge, and the prosecution of original researches therein and in kindred subjects, for affording instruction in the same, for the prosecution and exhibition of ornamental and decorative horticulture and gardening, and for the entertainment, recreation and instruction of the people.[7]

The Conservatory was key to the mission and concept of the NYBG from the beginning. When the master plan for the garden was drawn up, planning for the conservatory began. The commission to design the Conservatory was given to the greenhouse firm Lord and Burnham very early in the process.[8] The primary designer of the building was William R. Cobb, an architect employed by Lord and Burnham. The new Conservatory was primarily made of steel, cast iron, wood and glass.

The original design remained largely intact until the 1935 and 1950 renovations, which significantly compromised the original design. During these renovations, much of the elaborate decoration was removed. The 1935 renovation, in particular, was described as "an attempt to halt the deterioration of the endangered building and bring it up to the prevailing taste of European Modernism."[9] By 1978, the Conservatory was in a state of extreme disrepair and was slated for demolition due to a lack of funding for its renovation. Following Enid Annenberg Haupt's endowment, Edward Larrabee Barnes was the architect for the renovation and the conservatory was renamed the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.[4]

The most recent renovation was completed by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects in 1997, and was significant for the interior of the conservatory. The mechanical systems to control temperature, humidity, and ventilation were upgraded to computerized systems. The new systems allow optimal growing conditions for a greater variety of plants. This opportunity led to a redesign of the exhibits, which has remained largely intact. The redesign created a transitioning environment through the pavilions that conveys a trip over mountains from wet western slopes, up through the rainforest and down into the desert.

As the conservatory has evolved, the central principles guiding the NYBG's mission have remained consistent. The park (and the conservatory) continues to serve as a center for education. The conservatory also remains the focal point for the park, and is an element drawing the largest crowds to visit the NYBG. Due to the conservatory's history and success, it was dedicated as a New York City landmark in 1976.[10]



The original architect for the conservatory was the greenhouse company Lord and Burnham Co. Lord and Burnham was "the premier glasshouse design and fabrication firm of the time"[8] and completed several large commissions in addition to the NYBG Conservatory. Lord and Burnham began as Lord's Horticultural Manufacturing Company, which was founded in 1856 by Frederick A. Lord. His son-in-law William Addison Burnham joined the business in 1872, and its name was changed to Lord & Burnham.[11]

Lord was a carpenter from Ipswich, Massachusetts. He built himself a greenhouse in 1849 after moving to Buffalo, New York, and was subsequently asked to build greenhouses for others. He built greenhouses as a side job, until opening his own company. In 1870, Lord moved to Irvington, New York to be closer to his clients. Much of his early work consisted of greenhouses for large private estates along the Hudson River.

In 1877, Lord and Burnham was contracted to build a conservatory in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. This was one of the firm's first public works and led to many future projects. Jay Gould, the railroad tycoon, made an order in 1881 for several greenhouses to be constructed in Irvington. The greenhouses built on his estate were said to be the first steel-frame glass houses constructed in the United States.[12] In addition to their embrace of new materials, Lord and Burnham was innovative in the development of boilers (which were a key part of the greenhouses' functioning).

Lord and Burnham was awarded the commission to design the conservatory in 1896.[8] William R. Cobb was the architect working for Lord and Burnham who was in charge of the design of the conservatory. He was a noted horticultural designer and served as the first vice president, secretary, and general sales manager of Lord and Burnham. As a designer for Lord and Burnham, Cobb designed many parks, conservatories, and private estates throughout the country.[13]

Site and context[edit]

The original architect for the NYBG was Calvert Vaux (co-designer of Central Park). He served as an adviser during the formulation of the preliminary design along with Samuel Parsons. The plan they developed together was submitted in 1896 (shortly after Vaux's death), and was ultimately followed almost exactly. A notable exception of deviation from this plan was the location of the conservatory, which was the only major element not built on the site shown in the Vaux plan.[14]

From the time the land was secured for the park nearly until the Conservatory construction began, the placement of the conservatory within the park was heavily debated. The advisory committee of the Parks Department favored a formal spatial arrangement of buildings within the park, while the NYBG disagreed; they believed greater separation of the buildings would ease the management and supervision of crowds. Ultimately, the conservatory was placed away from other buildings in the park. At the time this was an unusual arrangement, as the conservatory had no axial or visual connection to the museum or any other buildings in the park.[15]

The site chosen in 1898 was an open field; some have suggested this open site was chosen to save existing trees. Additionally, the chosen site placed the conservatory in a location where the building is visible from the boundary streets along the south and west of the park. Southern Boulevard and other adjacent streets were realigned and reorganized when the site was developed. The arrangement created visibility of the conservatory from the road and presented the building as a public icon, relationships which still remain.[16]

Equally important to the overall placement of the building within the park was the development of the immediately surrounding gardens. The adjacent gardens were considered important supporting resources to the conservatory, and also related to the geometry of the building. "The elaborate, multiple domes style of the Conservatory and its topographic position above the surrounding grades dictated the clean lines and geometries of the surrounding paths, sloping terraces, and planting beds, further integration building and setting".[17] All of the adjacent garden elements were formal, geometric, and orthogonal to reflect the architecture of the Conservatory.

Materials and methods[edit]

In 2008

The main materials used in the construction of the conservatory were steel and glass, in addition to a range of materials used for the base, ornament, and waterproofing. The main structure of the building was made of steel although a few of the pavilions had wrought iron columns. Also, wood beams were used in some locations. Later renovations to the building altered some aspects of the structure. For example, many steel elements were replaced and wood beams were replaced with steel.[18]

Glazing was clearly the other major element in the conservatory. Standardized sized glass panes were used to the greatest extent possible, with 16-inch (410 mm) panels cut to length in all pavilions except the Palm House (the main pavilion.) The Palm House incorporated 20-inch (510 mm) glass. All pavilions called for second quality French and American glass. Additionally, clear and ground glass was used depending on the orientation of the glass. All vertical glass was left clear while certain portions of the roof glass were ground. However, the ground glass was not alone sufficient to provide shading and additional means were employed which would allow for modification depending on seasonal conditions. Stipling and waterproof movable shades were used for additional shade control.[18]

In addition to the structural and glazing systems, a variety of other materials were used for the base of the building, the waterproofing, ornament, and other secondary functions. Bluestone, Buff Bedford Stone, North River brick, and Tennessee marble were used for the masonry work. For leaders and gutters throughout most of the building, copper flashing was used. In some areas cast iron was used for the gutter system. Cast iron was also used for sills, friezes, columns, railings, mullions, transom bars, and snowguards.[18]

While the conservatory has undergone many renovations since the original construction, the same palette of materials has generally been maintained. However, the building systems behind what visitors see have been greatly altered in major efforts to maintain the best possible environment for the plants inside. Though technology has advanced greatly, the commitment to state-of-the-art systems has remained unchanged since the earliest boiler systems installed by Lord and Burnham.

Form and use[edit]

The conservatory form developed as a combination of the latest technologies in greenhouse design and more traditional ideas of ornament. The overall shape and layout of the building is geared both towards the functional aspects of the interior greenhouse spaces as well as creating a monumental form from the exterior to portray the significance of the building. Lord and Burnham made heavy use of ornament at the conservatory and was a trademark aspect of their civic and public conservatories. The heavy ornamentation here and in other buildings at the time was an essential element in defining the building's status and historical appearance.[19]

The building is a series of large glass pavilions that are all very open on the inside (typical of greenhouses). The pavilions are laid out symmetrically around the large central Palm House pavilion. In plan the building is divided into eleven pavilions, where each pavilion has a distinct geometry defining it in relationship to adjacent pavilions. Together the pavilions form a 512-foot-long (156 m) "C"-shape with the central pavilion (with its 90-foot-high (27 m) grand dome) in the center.[2] The use of ornament creates a hierarchy among the pavilions. The central dome is the most elaborate, followed by the corner and end pavilions. The interconnecting pavilions are the least ornamented.

Functionally, each pavilion houses a different group of plants representing various conditions found around the globe. The configuration of the building into distinct pavilions allows for each of these global regions to be treated separately in terms of the temperature and humidity maintained for the plants. While the collections have changed over time, the basic concept of display has remained fairly consistent. The base collection is generally permanent, with additional plants brought in for special exhibitions throughout the year. For example, there is an extensive orchid show every spring that draws many visitors to the Conservatory. During the orchid show, thousands of orchids are brought in and are incorporated into the existing collection.

The conservatory is a major resource in the international study of horticulture as well as a center for learning for the public. For example, every year hundreds of scientists travel to the conservatory to study the rare palm and cacti exhibits. The original goal of the conservatory to serve as a center of learning and to advance knowledge of the art and science of horticulture has remained intact since the opening of the conservatory and park. Additional greenhouses have been built on the grounds of the NYBG to provide additional space for research. These greenhouses are a tremendous resource for scientists while also supporting exhibits in the main Conservatory. As a symbol of the NYBG however, the conservatory remains the main draw of the park and its form has developed an iconic status in New York City and beyond.


Since the opening of the NYBG, the conservatory has been a tremendous resource for the community in the New York City area as well as for the global scientific community. The public focus of this conservatory was an important step in the larger history of greenhouses, especially at the time of its construction. Around 1900, greenhouses were a privilege only for the upper classes and carried with them a great air of exclusivity. The explosion of greenhouses across the world was due to a variety of influences. Colonial expansion and expanding worldwide travel at the turn of the century brought with it a certain mania for people to bring exotic flora into their lives, and the possibility was made complete through the development of the modern greenhouse. The Industrial Revolution resulted in such feats as Paxton's Crystal Palace, which marked the beginning of commercialized greenhouse design and construction. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory opened up the opportunity for people of all classes to enjoy the greenhouse experience. Also, as New York City expanded in the nineteenth century, open space became more and more precious. The NYBG as a whole provided a release from the pressures of city life and the Conservatory brought the opportunity for new and exotic experiences wholly outside the routines of everyday life. For the scientific community, the Conservatory has always been a major resource for scientists from all over the world and has helped established the New York Botanical Garden as a leader in horticultural research. The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory continues to uphold the ideals and traditions from its earliest beginnings and is a tremendous resource for New York City and beyond.




  • Beyer Blinder Belle Architects (October 12, 1990). Rehabilitation of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Historical Research Preliminary Report. Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners.(Capital Project #PV-205-AA, BBB reference # 1066.)
  • Cobb, William R. (November 17, 1934). "Obituary". The New York Times.
  • Dolkart, Andrew (1998). Guide to New York City Landmarks. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  • Jones, Malcolm (2008). "Eden without End [Enid A. Haupt Conservatory]". Preservation: the Magazine of the National NYBG Cultural Landscape Report. New York: Heritage Landscapes Preservation Landscape Architects and Planners.
  • Koebner, Linda (1997). "Green house". Landscape Architecture.
  • Lord and Burnham Co. (1956). Our One Hundred Years. New York: Lord & Burnham.
  • Tanner, Ogden (1991). The New York Botanical Garden. New York: Walker and Company.
  • Woods, May; Swartz Warren, Arete (1988). Glass Houses: A History of Greenhouses, Orangeries and Conservatories. New York: Rizzoli International Publications.

Further reading

  • Bartholomew, Alexander (1985). Conservatories, Greenhouses, and Garden Rooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • "Creative restorations". Oculus: 59. 1997.
  • Cunningham, Anne (2000). Crystal Palaces: Garden Conservatories of the United States. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
  • "National Trust for Historic Preservation". National Trust for Historic Preservation: 49. 1997.
  • Prisant, Carol (1997). "Crystal Palace in the Bronx". House Beautiful: 139.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°51′50″N 73°52′55″W / 40.86389°N 73.88194°W / 40.86389; -73.88194