Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library today dedicated its newly completed Brown Horticulture Learning Center to Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown (Lee), honoring them for their $1 million gift enabling Winterthur to enhance its educational Garden programming for members and the public.
Celebrating the adaptive renovation of an original estate greenhouse, Alice Cary Brown joined Winterthur trustees, staff, and friends in heralding the opening of the 3,000–square-foot building, which will create new opportunities for Winterthur’s thriving horticultural education program.
“Today’s dedication of the Brown Horticulture Learning Center marks an historic moment in advancing Winterthur’s educational mission while providing greater opportunities for public access,” said Winterthur Director David P. Roselle. “It is fitting that this new classroom is located here in the greenhouse area, as this was the heart of gardening activity during Mr. du Pont’s lifetime. With this adaptation, we will make it the core of our horticultural education program, and we thank Lee and Alice Cary Brown for their generous gift, which made this facility possible."
Lee and Alice Cary Brown have long been affiliated with Winterthur. Lee served on the Winterthur Board of Trustees beginning in 1993 and was chairman from 1997 to 2001. Alice Cary has served on the Winterthur Board since 2007 and has served as chair of the Trustees Garden Committee since 2010.
The center will offer programs, workshops, and demonstrations for gardeners of all skill levels, from beginner to master gardener. Programming will be taught by Winterthur’s internationally acclaimed garden staff as well as by guest lecturers and presenters.
The idea for the Brown Horticulture Learning Center grew out of the interests of Winterthur’s garden supporters, including the Browns. Six years ago, Winterthur’s garden staff began offering basic gardening programs, included with admission, to teach about the garden while using the landscape to demonstrate sound horticultural techniques. These programs have grown immensely in popularity and have inspired the Winterthur staff to begin offering more in-depth educational programming. With this new space, the growing program will be able to flourish and accommodate a range of new opportunities.
“Enthusiasm for our garden programming has grown so much in recent years that we saw the need for a dedicated facility, one that would be utilitarian, flexible, centrally located, and respectful of the garden and existing buildings,” said Chris Strand, Director of Garden & Estate. “Board Members Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown shared our enthusiasm and vision, and we are honored to have this beautiful space as a result.”
The architectural firm Moeckel and Carbonnel Associates was commissioned for the project. The firm’s principal, Joe Carbonnel, embraced the unusual project and the goal of retaining the historic look and feel of the original greenhouse. His creativity and eye for detail allowed Winterthur to keep the majority of the existing structure intact while creating a clean, comfortable and modern looking space.
Winterthur possesses one of the largest surviving 20th century greenhouse ranges in the world. Few locations could compete with it during its most active years in terms of its complexity, technological sophistication, and size. While most of the greenhouses stand, unglazed, as mere architectural features, this new classroom represents a novel approach to preservation.
The adaptive renovation of this original pit greenhouse allows members and visitors to experience the historical scale of estate operations and provides a revealing glimpse into the past by integrating it into the present. For example, when guests look at the bare rafters in the classroom, they are looking at the original structural steel that supported the wide expanse of glass in the original greenhouse. Along the walls, the enormous steam pipes, complicated control valves, and elaborate window operators offer clues to the original structure’s purpose. An entry display is a montage of images that include early photographs of people working in, and enjoying, greenhouses up through the present day.
Features of the new structure include clerestory windows, which not only bathe the room in sunlight but also facilitate efficient air circulation. Materials and systems chosen for the facility have demonstrated energy efficiencies, including the new heating/ventilation/air-conditioning, lighting and water systems.
To accommodate the range of learning preferences – from shared, interactive group discussions to individually driven social media exchanges – the center has a state-of-the-art audio-visual system that can accommodate media sources ranging from DVDs to laptops to iPhones and more. With a capacity of between 136 and 500 persons, the center will accommodate everything from small workshops to large lectures and events. Special attention was paid to the types of programs, such as flower arranging and horticultural demonstrations, that have unique needs. A rafter-mounted digital camera provides a live, overhead view of the demonstration area, for example.
Winterthur’s 60-acre naturalistic garden was designed by H.F. du Pont and is considered one of the finest in the nation. Thanks to du Pont’s horticultural knowledge and unique sense of style, and the work of Winterthur's garden department, the garden at Winterthur is one of the only extant “wild gardens” still in existence. Set amid 1,000 acres of rolling hills and woodlands, the colorful and overflowing garden is “a quietly revolutionary masterpiece, still far ahead of contemporary American landscape design,” according to Tom Christopher in Humanities,the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities.