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. 

Inside a glasshouse in Chile
Inside, the plants are set in an 8.2m square planter that’s sunk just beneath ground level. they are ringed by a raised walkway and protected by a double vaulted glass ceiling

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. §