Max Núñez' greenhouse in Chile gives the impression of a floating glass box

Modernism meets innovation at Max Núñez Arquitectos’ greenhouse in Pirque, Chile, where a steel frame supports two barrel vaults built of glass blocks, and its modest glass plinth creates a seductive illusion

Glasshouse in Chile reflects upon a lake
Located in central Chile, Max Núñez’s 11.4 x 11.4m greenhouse is inspired by modernist pavilions and raised on a plinth to give the impression of a floating glass box
(Image credit: Marcos Zegers)

The glasshouse is a typology that exists on the cutting edge of art and science, technology and style. Starting with medicinal plants, then scientific research, botanical display and finally industrial-scale cultivation, the evolution of the modern greenhouse has closely tracked available technology, from the development of glass itself to new kinds of structure and materials. 

This new greenhouse in Pirque, Chile, by Max Núñez, presents the pleasures of collection, cultivation and display with quiet architectural sophistication. It is a relatively modest 11.4 x 11.4m structure, raised up on a plinth to give the impression of a floating glass box. It’s a seductive illusion, all the more potent when the greenhouse is lit from within, giving off a mysteriously misty aura that is reflected in the adjoining pool


The greenhouse’s four glass walls are a nod to the classic modernist pavilion

(Image credit: Marcos Zegers)

The greenhouse’s four glass walls are a nod to the classic modernist pavilion, from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to Philip Johnson and beyond. Instead of the archetypal at roof, however, Núñez has delved back further to the dawn of the modern era, when innovations in glass technology transformed industrial buildings and residential design. Above the greenhouse’s walls, mounted on a frame of inverted V-shaped steel braces, is a roof comprising two barrel vaults of glass blocks.

They allow for an internal height of around 6.3m, enough for even the heartiest specimen to spread its fronds, while the glass blocks diffuse direct sunlight to take the strain off the thermostat. An external boiler house, linked to a set of automatically controlled vents in the glazing, pumps in heat, while a system of pipes and nozzles spritzes the interior to create hot and humid conditions for tropical plants to thrive. Outside, in contrast, is a typical semi-arid Chilean landscape.

Núñez’s work has an eclectic formal intensity at its heart. His Ghat House, on the country’s wild Central Coast, scooped Best New Private House in our 2018 Design Awards, thrilling the judges with its cascade of sculptural concrete. This project could not be more different, both in terms of scale and response to the topography. A greenhouse is an inversion of modernism’s staple approach, designed to sustain a transformative interior realm. By using raw industrial finishes and materials, Núñez has shaped a diaphanous framework around a small slice of the tropics.


Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.