Lucile Halsell Conservatory

The prize-winning Lucile Halsell Conservatory opened in February 1988. Designer of the futuristic glass project, Emilio Ambasz, an Argentine-born American, has a world-wide reputation. The futuristic conservatory was the first of his projects ever built and his revolutionary design has been published in magazines in several countries.

This project presents many new ideas on conservatory design. Most conservatories have all of their display areas connected by hallways or smaller rooms. By using the mild climate of San Antonio, designer Emilio Ambasz (local architect Jones Kell), however, has the visitor enter rooms that are separate and only accessible via the open-air courtyard. It can be viewed as five separate conservatories built around the courtyard. Not only does the climate help make this design work, but the arcades (overhead covered areas) also provide protection from the elements.

A unique design feature is the subterranean effect of the Conservatory. As visitors enter the front, they actually go underground through a tunnel. At the entrance, the project is cut into the original grade by three feet, with soil over the entryway. The Palm House is cut 20 feet into the earth, with the original exterior grade surface remaining unchanged.

Basically, all of the rooms are sunken in the ground and have a glass roof at least 18 feet above the floor level. The largest glasshouse, the palm pavilion, soars 65 feet at its highest point. The fern room is actually 23 feet below the surface. This design is successful in San Antonio because of the quality and quantity of sunlight. The sun is almost overhead in the summer and only dips 22 degrees above the horizon at its lowest point in the winter.

Another unique feature is that only the glass roofs protrude above the earth’s surface. All mechanical rooms, offices, and backup areas are underground, allowing for the very clean, uncluttered look of the landscape.