by Akash SinghAug 21, 2023
Colombia based DARP (De Arquitectura y Paisaje) has ambiguously arranged a cluster of individual steel and glass modules that seem to float between lush vegetation and lofty palm trees within the José Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden in Bogotá, Colombia's largest. These six greenhouses form El Tropicario, each hosting six varied ecosystems, linked via pathways and bridges that encourage visitors to experience and discover the spaces on foot. These routes snake between bright green landscaping and a gradually sloping concrete base. The architecture becomes an unstinting mediator between the visitor and the generous flora it camouflages within, emerging as a visual and sensorial space that uniquely emulates a Colombian wetland.
Part architecture, part nature, El Tropicario is one of the central elements of the ambitious “Nodos de Diversidad” or “Nodes of Diversity” initiative that seeks to carry out a new botanical expedition throughout different territories of Colombia, to protect and conserve some of its most threatened ecosystems. The building would then house and exhibit its findings, to inspire and raise awareness of the deteriorating wetlands, apart from local species of flora that face possible extinction soon.
El Tropicario becomes the main infrastructure of this plan, housed within the Botanical Garden, where it will host exhibition spaces that showcase and promote the results of these expeditions. The volumes are placed to simulate “floating spaces within a wetland”, referencing the ecosystem of the Bogotá Savanna, resting on the remains of an older structure of the botanical garden. The steel frames clad in glass seem to blur the distinction between the man made and natural, distorting and elevating the landscape to an organic, fresh and fascinating quality.
DARP referenced the “amphibian architecture developed by pre-Hispanic engineering (Chinampas, Camellones, Floating Islands)” for the design of the complex. The six glass modules contain six ecosystems or ‘collections’ each – Wetland, Humid Forest, Dry Forest, Special Collections, Useful Plants, and Super-paramo, an ecosystem that occurs 4,500 meters above sea level – each having its own specific height, temperature and humidity requirements. Each glass pod has a varied clear height between 12 and 25 meters, temperatures ranging between six to 32 degrees Celsius, and humidity between 30 to 80 per cent, to re-create the diverse conditions of the ecosystems.
One core focus was to assimilate El Tropicario into the existing structure of the Botanical Garden and its strong educational and vocational outreach. El Tropicario was thus designed to become part of the general route that one takes towards the Garden, its architecture and landscaping encouraging walking. An entirely enclosed architecture was therefore, out of question. DARP wanted the project to set dialogue with the landscape and reference the savannah’s history, along with relaying information about the environmental values and threats that the territory faces, as a way of contributing to the culture of the local landscape. “The answer involved understanding the building as a system of related parts that make up a whole,” shares Jorge Buitrago, lead architect for the project.
“The buildings were sought to be part of a great journey, an architecture that is generated from walking. Therefore, from the beginning, the project was seen not as a building enclosed by walls, but rather a journey that allows the visitor to discover the different spaces, without losing the relationship with the outside,” he explains further.
DARP employed passive temperature control systems that do not require mechanical ventilation systems (which require more energy to operate). The glass used vary in thickness, filters, and automated systems for opening, to control the temperature in some spaces. Each pod has been incorporated with an oculus at its top to capture rainwater and create a closed cycle of water collection and consumption – the accumulated water is lead towards the lakes within the garden, passing it further to the artificial wetland in the perimeter, which in turn works as a large reservoir of water that is used for the vegetation’s irrigation systems.
The entrance plaza is located on the lowest level, accessed by a ramp and a staircase that descends to it, and serves as a space for outdoor events and an entrance hall to the collections as well. From here on, the route ascends constantly, and reaches the Wet Forest, the highest of all the green houses (its clear height is 25 meters). A tower containing a staircase and an elevator takes one further to the upper levels where a viewing platform allows one to watch the swaying canopies of the trees of this ecosystem.
A system of ‘locks’ with technical controls and emergency exits act as transitional spaces between the different modules, allowing the visitor to move from one space to another and preserve the temperature conditions required for each space.
“El Tropicario is a commitment to building a landscape culture where, from the local context, a message of global urgency is transmitted,” shares Jaime Cabal, co-lead architect for the project.
For the structural system, concrete pillars were driven 30 meters into the ground, on the perimeter of the structures, which freed up the soil inside the spaces to become areas for deep seeding. The sloping, reinforced concrete bases on which 30x10 cm metal pillars are installed are emptied upon reaching the surface, becoming the support for the metal structure along with serving as flowerpots inside the spaces. These pillars also form ‘structural baskets’ as a self-supporting structure, which allows the insides to become column-less.
The conservation of the wax palms surrounding the site became the other key points of the design – the national tree is a species of slow growth and faces extinction. These palms have a life span of more than a century and reach up to 70 meters in height. Special care was taken to design and build around the 70 plus adult palms around El Tropicario, shares the firm. The flexibility of the complex and the differing sizes of the modular greenhouses were because the firm did not want to harm or replace the trees. “Our studio won the design competition for El Tropicaraio in 2014, and its construction started in 2016. We hope to complete it and open its doors to visitors this year,” concludes Cabal.
Name: Tropicario Bogotá Botanic Garden
Location: Bogotá, Colombia
Area: 3,787 sqm
Year of completion: 2014 – 2021
Client: Bogotá Botanical Garden José Celestino Mutis
Architect: DARP (De Arquitectura y Paisaje)
Lead Architects: Jorge Buitrago, Jaime Cabal
Coordinator: David Carmona
Competition Phase: Melisa Arango, Carlos Andrés Palacio, Sara Olier, Benjamín Gómez, Mateo Agudelo
Development Phase: Jamie NG, Teresa Tognetti Bottone, Carlos Andrés Palacio, Cristian Camilo Ríos, Milena Jaramillo, Sebastián Rosas, Héctor Ospina, Mauricio Álvarez, Katherine Agudelo, Adriana García
Graphic designer: Adriana García
Engineering: CNI Ingenieros
Landscape: DARP, Jardín Botánico de Bogotá
Museography: Carlos Betancur, Nadia Guacaneme