Return of the Ogee: Phipps Restores Historic Glass Architecture

For the first time since 1937 — and just in time for its 125th birthday — Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is bringing back the curved glass peak, known as an ogee, that sits atop the heart of the conservatory.

photos by paul g. wiegman

When Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Schenley Park opened to the community in 1893, it consisted of nine display rooms featuring exotic plants from around the world — and grand glass architecture.

The Palm Court, a Victorian-inspired room filled to the brim with various species of palm trees was — and still is — the first room visitors see. Until 1937, the Palm Court’s ceiling was a high, curved glass peak called an ogee, but major storms over the years comprised the stability of the structure.

Now, after 125 years, Phipps Conservatory has brought the ogee back to life by restoring the building to its original state.

According to a press release from Phipps Conservatory, the ogee consists of seven aluminum trusses filled in with aluminum ribbing and more than 700 panes of glass. In line with the original 1893 design by Lord & Burnham, the structure includes decorative fleur-de-lis cresting and towering 8-foot tall finials.

Richard Piacentini, president and CEO of Phipps Conservatory, says the return of the ogee unifies the Palm Court with the architectural styles on other parts of the building. The Fern Room and the Victoria Room, for example, feature similar architectural designs to the ogee.

“It completely transforms the view of the conservatory. I think it just makes it look so much more majestic and just makes everything else fit,” Piacentini says.

The restoration process finished earlier in October, with the grand re-opening set for Friday, Oct. 18 — a relatively short time after the project began in April. Piacentini says that in order to ensure the health of the plants in the Palm Court, construction had to be carefully timed with the weather.

“We can’t do it when the winter comes because the whole roof is open. It would kill the plants. We had to time this … when we thought that we would have minimal chances of major frost damage,” Piacentini says. “It’s a really tight window to do such a project like this, but we don’t have a choice, the weather’s not going to wait for us.”

But regardless of the construction period, the return of the ogee on the 125th birthday of the conservatory not only returns the structure to its original state, it celebrates the continued values of creating a source of pleasure and instruction for the general public, Piacentini says.

“When you look nationally and even internationally at you know, what are some of the most beautiful conservatories in the world, I think with the return of the ogee on Phipps, we definitely are in the top tier of some of the most spectacular, beautiful conservatories in the world,” Piacentini says. "We’re lucky in Pittsburgh to have something like this.”

To find out more about Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens or to purchase tickets, visit here.


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