The minimalist aesthetic requirements of this Oakton Virginia landscape design, which included a greenhouse, “weeping wall” and koi pond, presented complex technical challenges. The assignment was to determine how these visually powerful features should interact with each other and where best to site them in the landscape. The greenhouse design drove the creative process.
I wanted the greenhouse to make a statement. Something that you would see from the house that would be captivating. Howard Cohen, Surrounds Landscape Architecture & Construction
A stone wall connects the koi pond and greenhouse. As the design evolved, the connecting wall became part of the greenhouse foundation that extends out to border the koi pond on one side. There’s a path around the pond and a place to sit near the waterfall.
Building the Greenhouse Design
Our job is to partner with the designer, figure out how to make the concept work, make it buildable and get it to look great. If we get all of those we have a success. Alan Stein, President Tanglewood Conservatories
It started with an elevation and 3D rendering that architect Howard Cohen presented to Tanglewood Conservatories. Tanglewood specializes in this technically demanding type of installation.
Cohen’s conceptual drawing picked up on the architecture of his client’s residence: steep pitched roof, rustic cedar siding—and a contemporary look.
Alan Stein of Tanglewood Conservatories says his people got very excited when they looked at the project because they hadn’t done anything that looked like it. It was a welcome departure from the typically ornate traditional styles requested by most Tanglewood clients.
The fiercely minimalist geometry of the structure, most particularly the steep pitched copper trimmed roof, radiates inspired simplicity. And it took some very creative engineering. Cohen says he pushed his Tanglewood collaborators to keep the structure as simple and clean as possible
I didn’t want any beams or structure to block views. I wanted it to be completely open inside. They had to be very creative because there really aren’t any walls. It’s mostly glass. It was an amazing process and quite a feat of engineering. I would love to do that again. Howard Cohen
Collaboration & the Creative Process
Stein says that they typically take the architect’s idea and “massage” the dimensions and the proportions so that it looks right and is buildable and remains true to the designer’s vision.
Any time you are called upon to take somebody else’s vision and turn it into reality there’s going to be lots and lots of challenges because you’ve got to kind of climb inside their head. Alan Stein
In this case both the client and the architect had strong opinions. Stein says the trick is to arrive at a full understanding of the intent and overall concept and then fill in the details. He says that getting the scale and proportions just right is also imperative.
One detail that took a lot of work was figuring out how to best integrate an exterior stone wall into the greenhouse. That wall screens all of the mechanical systems.
On the interior, the greenhouse features high tech lighting and ceiling fans. The planting containers have irrigation systems built in and they drain to the outside. The floor is heated. Another nice exterior detail contributed by Tanglewood is the contrasting textures of the cedar materials. Window frames are smooth, machined wood, while the trim boards are rough sawn.
Conservatories are highly specialized, highly technical structures Alan Stein
Stein says that any conservatory presents an engineering challenge because it is mostly glass with minimal structural support. And yet you’ve got to design framing capable of bearing the roof load, which is made up of very heavy insulated glass panels. Another way conservatories and greenhouses are technically complex is that any structure with this much glass—tends to heat up and cool down very quickly. So you have to build in both passive and mechanically driven heating, cooling and ventilating systems that adjust to the seasons and times of day.
A Koi Pond Big Enough to Take a Dip In
The companion piece to the greenhouse is the large, deep koi pond. “It’s basically a swimming pool. You could take the fish out and jump in,” says Cohen. Town & Country Pools installed the gunite shell according to his specifications.
The pool builder’s expertise in forming swimming pools transfers nicely to koi ponds and water features. This installation included a waterfall, underwater lighting, water filtration systems and circulation equipment that needed to be installed perfectly. And the client insisted that the water be immaculately clean and pure for the fish.
The pond is 4.5 feet deep and holds around 10,000 gallons. A heater keeps water from getting below 40-degrees. So his fish stay active all year. In some ponds you let the water temperature drop naturally and the fish go into a dormant state over winter.
Reflections In Glass & Water
Both these installations seem to invite contemplation. The interior of the greenhouse is a temple of green that vaults skyward framing views of the blue above. Just outside, the koi pond invites reflection. It is a place to sit and “zen out.” This landscape design successfully integrates two dramatic environments that are all about the sensation, sound and feel of water.
If you’d like to talk about making your own indoor-outdoor environment for quiet, calm and contemplation, please contact one of our landscape architects. We’ll talk.
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