Design Stories 1.02

Photovoltaic Roof

Buildings through their design can tell stories.

Designing the new Fern Garden for the Marjory McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul, MN, we needed to create a moist, shaded glass space with dappled sunshine for the best fern growth. We chose to place the orchid house southeast where the orchids would thrive and tuck the Fern Room space behind to allow sunlight only from above.

For the roof, we approached the local electrical company for a partnership utilizing photovoltaic panels that would produce the electricity needed to operate the lights and fans within the garden space.  By incorporating photovoltaic cells in a staggered pattern, sunlight would filter through the glass roof in a dappled pattern similar to being beneath trees in a forest. The staggered design was created through two patterns turned and rotated to produce multiple effects.

It seemed appropriate that a 21st century conservatory would use the sun for power rather than the 20th century greenhouse that used petroleum products made from the ancestors of our ferns--the remains of prehistoric fern beds.



  • Architectural plan for Como expansion
  • Architectural drawing of Como expansion
  • Architectural drawing of green house
  • Inside greenhouse after completion
  • Inside greenhouse looking up at photovotaic pattern
  • Looking up, fern leaf blending with photovotaic cells
  • Photovotaic cells creating fern like cover
  • Water plants in front of orchid room