Four Amazing Green Greenhouses Built 40 Years Ago By Michael Jantzen


All images credit Michael Jantzen

Artist and designer Michael Jantzen is best known for his visionary building ideas like his M-House, covered recently in Fast Company, but I was really excited by his older stuff like his Autonomous House, that I called a Thirty-year old green wonder. Trolling the older work on his site, I found some amazing looking greenhouse structures, and called him to find out more. What he built and what he said is really remarkable. In fact, it's amazing.

In 1980 he built this commercial greenhouse to raise seedlings prior to the beginning of the gardening season in Illinois. The structure is designed to conserve energy by moving the plants from the outside to the greenhouse to an insulated section,


There is a large mound of earth and it is connected to the greenhouse. There is a steel culvert under the mound of earth insulated with foam insulation. At night the plants roll into this underground space to keep them at the temperature they need so we wouldn't have to heat the greenhouse at night.


This is a commercial greenhouse for growing seedlings. There is a track where you can slided the plant outside into a 35' glazed section, during the day when it was too cold outside, so you could pull the plants from the underground section to the glazed section. When it was warmer outside and you want to harden the plants to the climate, you could move the plants outside.


It was a machine for growing plants, where they could go from a superinsulated cave environment where you didn't need any energy at all. There was an insulated lid that closed up after the plants were in. As the temperature moderates and in the daytime, they would stay inside the glazed section.

Experimental Greenhouse 1987

Experimental Greenhouse 1987 was built for the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It was a modular, transportable unit.


This was much more complex; the white section at the end is super-insulated with foam.


The whole thing was automated; there is a little computer that monitored the air temperature and light levels, and moved the plants in and out depending on the available of light and heat.


And then further, the drawers where plants are sitting on stainless steel benches, there were plastic tubes with phase change material in them. That was the thermal mass that would absorb the heat in the rods while it the material liquified, and that would provide the heat needed at night. It was also designed to self-water and inject CO2.


There is a cable that runs to the back of the insulated tube to the opposite end, and pulls the tray out into the sun.


Note that there is only one section in the middle that is tall enough for a person to step in, so idea was to design the shape of the structure is designed so that you don't have to heat a large volume that the plants don't need, you only need one small section where a person can tend to the plants as they were moving past. In the summer, all of the panels slid open so that it could ventilate naturally. A very complex little structure.

There is a lot more; the early greenhouses that he designed to minimize the interior area, with wings for the plants and a lane down the middle for the gardener, minimizing the air that has to be be warmed.

Just room for plants and people.


The other greenhouses, like experimental greenhouse 1980, I was designing for the mass market. I was experimenting with growing plants in a cold climate. it was built with 2x4 and plywood and sprayed with foam on the outside to insulate. there were two layers of corrugated translucent plastic and in between was a blanket that rolled in between the airspace at night and rolled to the back in the daytime.


The corrugated section that you see you could close up like a roll-top desk. the side had a rock wall that would absorb heat during the day and you would blow air through it at night.

And there is still more material for yet another post to come. As I said, amazing stuff.

More at Michael Jantzen's site, and on TreeHugger:
The Autonomous House By Michael Jantzen Is A Thirty-Year-Old Green Wonder
Transformation House by Michael Jantzen
Wind Shaped Pavillion By Michael Jantzen
Michael Jantzen's Solar Wind Pavilion

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Tags: Designers | Green Building | Wayback Machine

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