By Robert Such. Published in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Standing in the courtyard of a retirement home for the elderly in the Swedish city of Malmö, Monika Gora’s 35-foot-high (10.5 meters) Glass Bubble provides a warm and fragrant private garden for the elderly residents.

Inside the glasshouse, residents can sit around and chat under the luxuriant foliage growing beneath the curved, glass roof, enjoying the fragrances of plants such as Citrus, Camellia and Magnolia.

Unlike the Mediterranean conditions inside the bubble, the cooler Swedish climate outside supports a variety of plants: Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Sheep Fescue (Festuca ovina), Eastern Teaberry, or American Wintergreen, (Gaultheria procumbens) and other hardies grow in raised peat-and-sand flowerbeds. Gora chose plants that could withstand the wet and cold of winter, and the salt winds rushing in off the Öresund. The Öresund strait connects the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and separates Demark from Sweden.  

Interior and exterior low dry stone walls, as well as the flagstones in the courtyard and the Glass Bubble, are made from a gray, rust-flecked, Norwegian slate.

The bubble itself is made of flat, half-inch-thick (16 mm) laminated glass panels, supported by a stainless steel armature, designed in association with two engineering firms.

Beating off two other landscape architecture practices in the garden design competition, Gora asked engineering firm Buro Happold to design a build-able structure from her sketches and a plastic model. Happold, however, came up with a “complicated mathematical solution,” says Gora. The building wasn’t transparent enough, so she approached Dutch engineering firm Octatube Space Structures. Theirs was an “elegant solution,” she says.

Although single-glazed, which Gora estimates will push average winter running costs up by 30 to 40 percent, the alternative double-glazed design solution proposed by Octatube was “more clumsy,” says Gora. The clients also preferred the single-glazed version. To obtain maximum transparency, the engineers used extra white glass.

“The function of the glass is like a membrane,” she says. “The inside becomes a bubble filled with warmth and life. Full of light and space, protected and quiet.”

This is not Gora’s first bubble-like work. Over the years, she has created a number of rounded structures, such as a glowing, 33-foot-high (10 meters), zeppelin-shaped inflatable in Vienna (1995), the Shining Sculptures (1997) gallery installation, and the 40-foot-high (12 meters) A Drop of Light inflatable in Stockholm (1998).

Aside from satisfying her clients’ practical requirements, Gora’s interest lies in stimulating public debate about the relationship between culture and nature, and about current social, political and environmental issues, through landscaping and exhibiting artworks.

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Gora moved to Sweden with her parents in the late Sixties. After completing her studies at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in 1983, she set up her own company in 1989.

Other recently completed works include six 12-foot-high (3.5 meters) onion-shaped light sculptures bordering a highway on the outskirts of Malmö. Current projects include a hilly landscaped park, using soil from city construction works. Both this project and a children’s play area in Stockholm’s historic Kungsträdgården (King’s Garden) are due to open next summer. For the kids in the Kungsträdgården, Gora has designed light sculptures, a rose garden and a bridge in a playground. While she designed the play area to fit into the historic local context, she points out that it will be “an exciting place for kids.” As with the Glass Bubble and the courtyard garden, it will no doubt set people talking about the nature of place and appropriate landscape responses to making good outdoor space in an urban setting.