The Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Visitor Centre was designed to blend in with its natural surroundings.
Meant as a seamless extension of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s path system, the Visitor Centre building is embedded into a hillside, with glass walls and canopy providing clear orientation to the major garden precincts such as the Japanese Garden and the Cherry Esplanade.
Designed by the New York-based firm Weiss/Manfredi, the project won the award for excellence in design by the New York City Public Design Commission and a National ASLA honour award, and was a recipient of the AIA 2014 Institute Honour Awards for Architecture.
The Visitor Centre, which is embedded into the hillside at the northeast corner, includes an exhibition gallery, information lobby and orientation room, a leaf-shaped events space, an external staircase to surrounding gardens, a gift shop offering garden-related merchandise and plants, and a café.
Like the gardens themselves, the building is never seen in its entirety. The long, serpentine steel frame structure, inspired by the winding pathways, also gives shape to the undulating roof canopy.
The primary entry is visible from the street, exhibiting a landscaped plaza planted with native black gum, sweet bay and other trees, while an additional entrance is situated at the top of the berm. The plaza at the main entrance also features two rain gardens filled with water-loving native shrubs, herbaceous perennials and grasses, including great blue lobelia, broad-leafed meadowsweet and switch grass. In its entirety, the Visitor Centre is landscaped with nearly 60 000 plants.
The front side of the building features a pleated copper roof that will ultimately weather to a green colour that matches the historic roofs of the garden. A living roof tops a second garden-front pavilion, covering nearly 10 000 square feet. This new experimental landscape changes throughout the year, transforming according to each season with more than 40 000 types of grasses, spring bulbs and perennial wildflowers being planted.
In addition, the roof slows and channels rainwater to a series of bio-infiltration basins that retain and filter storm water used to irrigate a series of landscaped terraces.
Having earned LEED Gold certification, the building incorporates numerous other sustainable features.
Managing heat and light
The existing earth mass of the berm, together with spectrally elective fritted glass of the curtain wall and canopy, are applied to minimise heat gain and maximise illumination from sunlight. The curved glass walls along the south of the building were designed and oriented to filter natural light and provide views of the gardens, while the north side of the centre is carved into the berm to increase thermal efficiency.
In addition, a geothermal heat exchange system consisting of 28 thermal wells is used to heat and cool the interior spaces, reducing the structure’s overall energy consumption. Efficient floor heating provides further warmth as needed.
Much of the structure and landscaping boasts concrete and steel containing post-consumer and post-industrial recycled building materials. Architectural cast-in-place concrete and exposed structural steel were predominantly used, together with the custom-fitted insulated glass and aluminium as part of the curtain wall.
On the inside, the wood panelling was milled from ginkgo trees harvested from the building site, saving on transport costs and reducing CO₂ emissions.
As a constructed natural environment, dependent on manmade infrastructure, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Centre serves as an interface between garden and city, culture and cultivation.
Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to Weiss/Manfredi for the information given to write this article.
Green quick facts:
• LEED Gold certification.
• Living roof.
• Rainwater collection.
• Rain gardens.
• Storm water management.
• Indigenous landscaping.
• Geothermal heat exchange system.
• Spectrally elective fritted glass.
• Recycled building materials.