(picture courtesy of flickr - my picture of the same view in heavy rain wasn't as comprehensible)
I walked in knowing little about the building, so I began talking to the museum staff, who told me that the museum's original winter gardens were damaged in the war, and later demolished. The glass building above was completed as one of the national lottery-funded millennium projects, and was 'the most attended museum outside London' when completed. The picture below shows the original winter gardens in the early 1900s; very Crystal Palace- like:
Entering the Winter Gardens begins with a look up at a spiralling staircase leading up into a green canopy. The open treads and mesh under the railings help promote the gardens the staircase travels through.
The architecture both internally and externally was very transparent, allowing views of the gardens wherever you are in the winter gardens, including outside the building. I'd imagine this is to allow the most natural sunlight into the building (to help the tropical plants grow), as I spotted no artificial lighting in this structure. Eco-credentials in a garden are particularly appropriate.
View of the (broken) lift into the canopy, which is just as transparent as the rest of the structure.
My picture above shows the view from the top of the canopy. A cantilevered walkway lines the perimeter of the building, and it is very open (much like the staircase), allowing you to see beneath your feet and down onto the tops of the plants below. The cantilever allows a column free space under the walkways, creating an unobstructed growing area about twenty metres across. The walkway also slants away from the centre of the room, allowing more space for the growth of the larger plants, such as banana plants.
This type of future-proof architecture interests me. I watched a programme on iPlayer featuring Richard Roger's Lloyds Building in London and how it was designed to meet the requirements of a modern office block a decade or two after its completion. This involved designing space for the miles of computer cables that would replace the old typewriters and filing cabinets in offices of the time. The building also features a huge atrium that is built in such a way that new floors could be added across it if extra floor space is required in the future.
When I design buildings for university projects it would be useful for me consider not just the building's purpose upon the immediate completion date, but also the function maybe a few decades in the future. Flexibility is so important in architecture. I was in California a few years ago and a tour guide told me that the Disney studios in Hollywood were laid out and designed to look like a hospital, so that if Walt Disney's ambitious creations did not hit a chord with the public, the studios could be easily converted into a hospital. Plant growth, however, is much easier to predict, so the architects (Napper Architects) of the Winter Gardens didn't have to go to the lengths that Rogers or Disney did.