Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center
Aaron Booher, HM White

Living Roof & Public Landscape - Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center

HMWhite as Landscape Architects

Honored by the NYC Design Commission with an Award for Excel¬lence in Design in 2008 for integration of form, function and sustain¬able practice, the new visitor center to the Brooklyn Botanic Gar¬den establishes a visionary public interface between the city and the garden. The landscape’s central feature is the building’s living roof design, conceived as a seamless, inhabitable extension of the Garden that mergers landscape and architecture and redefines physical and philosophical relationships between visitor and garden, exhibition and movement, culture and cultivation.


Fusing contemporary site engineering technology with sustainable landscape and horticultural design, the Visitor Center landscape de¬sign marks the Garden’s centennial and demonstrates the institu¬tion’s commitment to environmental stewardship and conservation by providing a new pedagogical paradigm with this high performance landscape design and new botanical exhibit for its next 100 years of public service and education.


STORMWATER MANAGEMENT A network of storm water collection features an extensive green roof, storm water channel, vegetated swales and bio-infiltration basins. Collectively, these elements retain storm water on site to facilitate natural filtration and ground water recharge and discharge to the municipal sewer.


SOIL RECLAMATION Contaminated soils in the historic fill demanded remedial action. Distinct soil profiles were designed to reconstruct existing soils and restore viable soil biology to support each diverse horticultural conditions. The bio-infiltration basin's loose deep soils absorb water and filter pollutants and expand the volume of storm water capture. Structural soils in plazas provide contiguous expansive soil volumes to sustain limitless tree root growth under paved areas.


HORTICULTURAL EXHIBIT The planting design demonstrates how a specific mix of plant species and types can regenerate high performing ecologies. Informed by native plant communities, botanic collections are organized in bold drifts, from upland to lowland typologies that knit the Visitor Center landscape into the existing and establish a resilient design structure for future garden expansion.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center

WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism as Architects

A botanic garden is an unusual kind of museum, a fragile collection constantly in flux. As a constructed “natural” environment, it is dependent on manmade infrastructures to thrive. New York City’s Brooklyn Botanic Garden contains a wide variety of landscapes organized into discrete settings such as the Japanese Garden, the Cherry Esplanade, the Osborne Garden, the Overlook, and the Cranford Rose Garden. The Botanic Garden exists as an oasis in the city, visually separated from the neighborhood by elevated berms and trees.

 

To provoke curiosity and interest in its world-class collection, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center provides a legible point of arrival and orientation, an interface between garden and city, culture and cultivation. The building is conceived as an inhabitable topography that defines a new threshold between the city and the constructed landscapes of the fifty-two-acre garden.

 

Sited at Washington Avenue and within the berm that separates the Brooklyn Museum parking lot from the Botanic Garden, the Visitor Center provides clear orientation and access to the major garden precincts such as the Japanese Garden and the Cherry Esplanade. The Center includes an exhibition gallery, information lobby, orientation room, gift shop, café, and an events space.

 

Like the gardens themselves, the building is experienced cinematically and is never seen in its entirety. The serpentine form of the Visitor Center is generated by the garden’s existing pathways. The primary entry to the building from Washington Avenue is visible from the street; a secondary route from the top of the berm slides through the Visitor Center, frames views of the Japanese Garden, and descends through a stepped ramp to the main level of the Garden.

 

The curved glass walls of the Center’s gallery are mediating surfaces between the building and the landscape. The fritted surfaces of the glass filter light and provide veiled views into the Garden. By contrast, the north side of the center is inscribed into the berm. The steel-framed superstructure adjusts to the curved plan and gives shape to the undulating roof canopy. The building utilizes earth mass and spectrally selective fritted glass to achieve a high-performing building envelope, minimizing heat gain, and maximizing natural illumination. A geothermal heat-exchange system is used to heat and cool the interior spaces. Additional sustainable strategies include a green roof, storm water management, and rainwater collection that irrigate a series of landscaped terraces.

 

A chameleon-like structure, the visitor center transitions from an architectural presence at the street into a structured landscape in the botanic garden. The Center redefines the physical and philosophical relationship between visitor and garden, introducing new connections between landscape and structure, exhibition and movement.

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