Belle Isle Conservatory
State of Michigan / DNR
G.H. Forbes Associates Architects
A gem of Detroit, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory located on Belle Isle is one of the nation’s oldest glasshouses still in existence. The Albert Khan designed building known for its glass dome was inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and opened August 18, 1904. The 85-foot-high dome was originally constructed of wood and in the 1950’s was rebuilt with a skeleton of steel and aluminum.
Today, the conservatory is undergoing another major renovation to preserve the historic landmark. The Department of Natural Resources and Belle Isle contracted Ideal to restore the integrity of the dome structure, known as the Palm House. The scope of work includes the removal and replacement of the deteriorating structural steel truss columns, original to the 1904 structure, with new galvanized assemblies. The towering palms and tropical plants housed in the 100,600 cubic-foot dome proposed a challenge to the team as the temperature was to remain consistent throughout construction. In order to replace the trusses, the existing electrical and mechanical systems had to be removed. The team developed a plan with the mechanical subcontractor that allowed for the trusses to be replaced and the temperature to remain consistent in the Palm House. The mechanical subcontractor froze the existing hot water supply and return piping and added isolation valves. This allowed the team to remove individual radiant units without shutting down the entire system which eliminated having to provide temporary heat for the facility. This project was delivered on time and with great customer satisfaction.