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Studio updates.

Climatron

   
  
 
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    When the Climatron opened in 1962 it displayed the technological control of nature via a public display of four whole plant ecologies unified under a single geodesic dome. The public literally walked into the Climatron past a Honeywell computer. The real purpose of the Climatron was to gather the support for a future and grander controlled environment laboratory. In itself it does little overt scientific work. As the Climatron attracted paying visitors, however, it was supposed to underpin the creation of the infrastructure of the next broader research program into the environment as a category of biology. For its creator, Frits Went, the Climatron was the next, though explicitly intermediate, step between a phytotron for single plant holding one set of climate variables constant and a full ecotron that could replicate a set of organisms and environments.

    Inevitably, the name of the facility “was coined specifically.”[1] This time, it was architect, Eugene Mackey, Sr., who devised the name Climatron, responding to Went’s idea that he wanted a climatological laboratory. The pattern of his earlier phytotron repeated itself: though he did not father it, Went once again wore proudly another tron badge. “Just as the cyclotron, bevatron and synchrotron belong to the most ambitious research tools the physicist has created,” Went wrote, so “the Climatron undoubtedly is the most modern and advanced research and demonstration tool of the horticulturalist and botanist.”[2]

    “Only a visit to the Climatron can make one realize what a modern greenhouse can be, and that the era of the musty, overheated, overshaded and overplanted greenhouse is doomed,” Went insisted.[3] Some sixty thousand Missourians agreed in just the first month, and paid to wander through the modern greenhouse.

    Modernists from Robert Moses to Le Corbusier would have noted proudly that “the immediate present—and the palms—were sacrificed to the future.”[4] Left out to die, Went and the architects saw the passing of the outdated palm motif. To them, their new Climatron “stands in striking contrast to the old-fashioned Palm House it replaced,” and became “the principal feature of a series of improvements … overlooking the principal landscape of the 100-year-old Botanical Garden.”[5] In characteristic fifties style, the past and the present made way for the future, a shining, aluminum, geodesic future, now covered with the material of the future: “plexiglass.” The excitement of creating an entirely new world gripped the Garden: “We were building not just a new greenhouse for Shaw’s garden—we were inventing a radical, new kind of facility, never before even tried anywhere in the world, for a radically new approach to the growth of plants and display of tropical plants.”[6]

    In the early 1970s, the Climatron inspired the movie Silent Running and its dystopian vision of humanity’s future in space, where the biodomes of the last of Earth’s organic matter are being jettisoned into space as waste, and then detonated. 

[1]. ‘The Climatron of St. Louis,’ handwritten notes. n.d. (~1960). In Frits Went papers. Record Group 3/2/6/1, box 1, folder 14. Archives. Missouri Botanical Garden.

[2]. ‘The Climatron of St. Louis,’ handwritten notes. n.d. (~1960). In Frits Went papers. Record Group 3/2/6/1, box 1, folder 14. Archives. Missouri Botanical Garden.

[3]. ‘The Climatron Opens to the Public,’ 131. Robert Moses wanted to sacrifice Washington Square Park to a new freeway running up 5th avenue, while Le Corbusier wanted to sweep clean most of the right-bank of Paris to build new apartment buildings.

[4]. ‘Fact Sheet: The Climatron,’ n.d. (~1960). Record Group 3/2/6. Box 21, folder 4. Archives. Missouri Botanical Garden.

[5]. ‘The Climatron Opens to the Public,’ 131.

[6]. ‘The Climatron of St. Louis,’ handwritten notes. n.d. (~1958). In Frits Went papers. Record Group 3/2/6/1, box 1, folder 14. Archives. Missouri Botanical Garden.

david munns