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School Greenhouse Design Tips

by James T. Biehle, AIA

Growing plants in a controlled environment such as a greenhouse can be a wonderful enhancement to any science program. Thoughtful planning, proper design, and faculty advocates who support the greenhouse as an

Greenhouse with ventilation system

Greenhouse with ventilation system

important asset to their curriculums are necessary for a school greenhouse to be successful. This article discusses how to create a greenhouse at your school.

During the early planning stages of a project, before the budget is set and before the architect has located and designed the greenhouse, the faculty advocates need to identify how the greenhouse will be used in the science curriculum. Will large groups of students (e.g., a class of 24) be conducting activities in the greenhouse at one time? Will the greenhouse be available to students at times other than normally scheduled class periods? Will individual or small group projects be carried out in the greenhouse in addition to activities involving the entire class? What type of climate should the greenhouse maintain? (The Missouri Botanical Garden, for example, has several greenhouse structures: one maintaining the climate of a tropical rain forest, another of a desert, another of the Mediterranean coast.) What types of plants will students grow and what will happen to the plants during summer vacations? Will other faculty members, student groups, and staff have access to and use of the greenhouse?

A greenhouse facility can be a large, freestanding facility in which students experiment with manipulating crop mutations and cross-pollination; a

Greenhouse with interior shading

Greenhouse with interior shading

more modest space that is an integral part of the science department, surrounded by labs and classrooms; or simply an enlarged plant window that is extended out from the wall of a single lab/classroom to provide an area for living plants on a relatively small scale. Whatever the scale and location, design of the space is critical. Important design considerations include:

  • orientation
  • ventilation
  • cooling and heating
  • water supply and drainage
  • lighting
  • materials of construction and furnishings
  • location