Within the Orto Botanico in Padua, Italy—a walled garden built by the University of Padua in 1545 for medicinal plant research—survives a 450 year old Mediterranean Palm (Chamaerops humilis) known as Goethe’s Palm. This specimen served as one of the inspirations for Johann von Goethe’s theory on botanical morphology, enumerated in the text The Metamorphosis of Plants from 1790. To protect the specimen over the centuries, university gardeners constructed a series of temporary and permanent palm houses, producing an index of the changing relationship between a living ecosystem and the technical, environmental, and material conditions required for its care.
Continuing these four centuries of maintenance and cultivation, PALM-HOUSE proposes three future prototypes to house this fragile specimen. While greenhouse architectures (such as the Palm House in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew) often represent a problematic conflation of colonial extraction and ecological exceptionalism, can an alternative deployment of the tectonic and climatic systems used for horticultural care instead be used to promote a renewed awareness of planetary ecology? By adjusting these assemblages, botanical technicians can continuously calibrate the enclosures to mitigate the deteriorating environmental conditions of this indigenous species: curating atmospheric compositions, filtering dangerous pollutants, and shielding the palm from extreme temperature fluctuations. By acknowledging the needs and precarity of the specimen, the prototypes center the palm within an ecology of care, producing an intimate encounter between a plant, the people who tend it, and the architecture that houses it.