The oldest botanical garden in the world has had a makeover. Just a little nipping and tucking for the historical parts of the University of Padua’s revered botanical gardens, the Orto Botanico, established 1545. The real transformation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site takes the form of a whole new high-tech complex housing planetary ecosystems in the heart of the city, sandwiched between two of its most iconic monuments. Three years in the building under the expert oversight of planners VS associati, specialists in combining technical innovation and sustainability in architecture, the new area covers 15,000 square metres. It consists largely of a 100-metre-long glasshouse divided into 5 sections recreating the flora of the earth’s principal biomes, from the tropical to the subarctic. Eye-catching blade cascades separate the sections. Thousands of plant species, each to its own controlled climate zone, thrive in a self-sustaining structure that collects rainwater and exploits the sun for heating, ventilation and to produce electricity.
State-of-the-art technology but also high visual impact in a historic context – a bold decision from the University authorities. Architect Giorgio Strappazzon has judiciously preserved the magnificent perspective from the multiple domes of the Basilica of Santa Giustina on the south side (presiding over the stunning expanses of Prato della Valle) to those of the church of Sant’Antonio (known simply as Il Santo in Padua) to the north. Culture, science, architecture and education: the wonderful old botanical garden combined them all. Its new wing reinforces the concept and aims to become a venue attracting national and foreign tourists as well as the townspeople themselves. Presented to the press and opened for a sneak preview last October, the new ‘biodiversity’ gardens should be fully and regularly accessible to all visitors by September this year.