The Climatron® is the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory, incorporating the principles of R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic system. It opened to the public on October 1, 1960. The design of the Climatron greenhouse was developed by St. Louis architects Murphy and Mackey, winning the 1961 Reynolds Award, an award for architectural excellence in a structure using aluminum. In 1976 it was named one of the 100 most significant architectural achievements in United States history. The term “Climatron” was coined to emphasize the climate-control technology of the greenhouse dome.
The Climatron has no interior support and no columns from floor to ceiling, allowing more light and space per square foot for plants than conventional designs. It rises 70 feet in the center, spans 175 feet in diameter at the base, has 1.3 million cubic feet, and encloses approximately 24,000 square feet (more than half an acre).
The interior of the Climatron is designed on a tropical rain forest theme, highlighting their diversity and ecology. Visitors enter and immediately experience the tropics: dense green foliage, a small native hut, sparkling waterfalls, rocky cliffs, a river aquarium with exotic fish, and a bridge from which the forest canopy and associated plants can be viewed.
More than 2,800 plants, including 1,400 different tropical species, grow inside the Climatron. They include banana, cacao, coffee, many wild-collected plants, orchids, and exotic, rare plants such as the double coconut, which produces the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The lush, green tropical rainforest environment is maintained by a computerized climate control system. Inside temperature ranges from 64°F (18° C) at night to a high of 85°F (29° C) during the day. The average humidity is 85 percent. Plants are watered with reverse osmosis purified, tempered water.
The greenhouse was closed for extensive renovations in 1988. It re-opened in March 1990 with many new features, including new panes of glass and a re-landscaped interior. The old, deteriorated Plexiglas panes were replaced with 2,425 panes of heat-strengthened glass, containing a Saflex plastic interlayer manufactured by Monsanto Company. The inner surface of this glass-and-plastic sandwich is coated with a low-emissivity film. This coating helps reduce heating costs by retaining the solar energy collected during the day for use at night. The new support system for the glazing is rigid and has integral gutters to carry condensation.
A ground-level entrance and energy-conserving automatic doors make the entire Climatron accessible to disabled visitors. The Shoenberg Temperate House hugs the north side of the building.
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