Peas will grow there once again: New “Mendel greenhouse” opens in Brno

The newly-restored greenhouse in the garden of the Augustinian abbey in Brno where the father of modern genetics, Gregor Johann Mendel, cross-bred pea plants and thereby discovered the laws of heredity, opened to the public for the first time on Saturday afternoon. The ceremonial opening was planned to coincide with the anniversary celebrations of the bicentenary of Mendel’s birth.

The original greenhouse in the Augustinian abbey in Brno | Photo:  Chybik + Kristof Architects & Urban Designers

The original greenhouse where Mendel conducted his experiments with pea plants was built in 1854 by his mentor, the abbot Cyrill Napp. However, the building wasn’t around for very long. Archaeologist Lenka Sedláčková, who was part of the team which uncovered the stone perimeter walls of the original greenhouse, explained to Czech Radio what happened:

“Sometime in the 1870s, a huge storm blew through the area, badly damaging the greenhouse. It was originally assumed that the building was not restored after this. But thanks to archival research it has been possible to find several photos, and now we know that the greenhouse stood here until the 1960s, when it was demolished due to its extremely dilapidated condition.”

Photo: Mendel University in Brno

Only the foundations of the original building remain. Until recently, the adjacent museum café located on the grounds of the abbey kept its tables and chairs there. But now it is on these foundations that the new greenhouse has been built, with a modern glass-and-steel design by Brno architectural studio Chybík+Krištof. Architect Ondřej Chybík says that although the building is modern, it was designed to seamlessly blend in with its surroundings, so as not to look out of place next to the historic abbey.

Photo: Mendel University in Brno

“It is a completely modern design, but something of the old building remains. We carefully studied the archival materials, the historical drawings and the geometry of the old greenhouse, and we used, for example, the same kind of distinctive roof which is slanted only on one side.”

Their design also copies the floor plan and the body of the original building – and the architects tried to incorporate Mendel's genetic laws into their design, by having several types of building elements, which “inherit” their properties from the largest to the smallest, in a similar fashion to Mendel's peas.

The actual construction of the greenhouse started in February this year and finished this month, although the renovation plans were already being discussed in 2018. The new greenhouse will serve as a multifunctional space for lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and other scientific, cultural and social events.

Photo: Mendel University in Brno

And furthermore, it will also be used for its original purpose – as a science laboratory. The legendary peas will be grown in the new greenhouse aeroponically – that is, in an air or mist environment, without the use of soil or a substrate – and hang from the ceiling. Thus, people will be able to see all the stages of pea growth and development and take on Mendel's role as researchers, as one of the organisers of the 200-year anniversary celebrations of Mendel’s birth, Jakub Carda from the association Together (Společně), highlights.

“There will be peas in the greenhouse once again, just like the ones Mendel cultivated. The space will also function as a museum, gallery, or a place for any kind of meeting, conference, or workshop.”