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Grimshaw grows in America

Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners is extending its portfolio of truly 'green' schemes beyond Cornwall's Eden project with a public centre for the study of plants to be built in St Louis, Missouri, in the usa.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has been designed to mimic the way plants respond to different climates and changes in the weather by 'layering and articulating the external cladding'. The £35 million, 16,690m2 building will be partly public and partly for scientists to extend the understanding of plant science through experimentation and the exchange of ideas. They'll be doing the latter in semi-public areas such as walkways, bridges and meeting platforms linking each laboratory block inside. The lab blocks themselves are linked at the south end by a free-standing 'pod' structure containing semi-public areas such as a library, meeting rooms and a faculty lounge.

The architect has taken on board the centre's proposed mixture of 'technology' and 'nature' and extended it into the appearance of the building. It appears 'hard and machine-like' from the roadside, symbolising technology; but visitors and workers approaching the building through the car park will see warmer-textured wooden cladding, denoting nature.

Inside, the labs and offices are in two main wings running north to south, separated by a central atrium. Low morning and evening sun hitting the laboratory offices, which run east-west, is passively controlled by articulating the facade with two panels - one south-facing and made of pressed aluminium; the other of wood and glass, facing north. This creates sawtooth bays, like collegiate oriel windows, running the length of the laboratory. The 'basement' includes an auditorium and conference rooms for conventions and an arts programme, and 'growth room' laboratories for heavier processes such as soil mixing. Greenhouses are at the most northerly end.

The three-storey atrium is fully public and is enclosed by a ridged northlight roof and two fully glazed end elevations in a bid to create a 'light and airy internal garden'. Unlike the laboratories, the atrium is not fully air-conditioned, reducing running costs, but is tempered by secondary air from the offices. A glazed front 'street', running east-west, acts as a modifier for bad weather (it goes from winters below freezing to summers of 40degreesC with 100 per cent humidity) and is equipped with motorised glass louvres arranged in strips at the top and bottom of the glass facade. The louvres are powered by photovoltaic cells and will allow air movement and function as a solar chimney.

The centre is the product of a partnership involving the Missouri Botanical Garden, Purdue University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Missouri-Columbia and Washington University in St Louis. Controversial gene-modifier Monsanto is also involved. hok is technical and landscape architect and Ove Arup is structural and mechanical engineer.

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