Inspired by organic forms and natural systems, the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre seeks to create a harmonious balance between architecture and landscape, from a visual and an ecological perspective. The dynamic single-story structure includes an innovative prefabricated roof form that appears to float above the building’s curved rammed earth and concrete walls. Metaphorically representing undulating petals, the building form flows seamlessly into a central oculus and the surrounding landscape.
Located on the Garden’s prominent southeast corner, the 1,810 sm Visitor Centre transforms the site’s entrance to heighten public awareness of the Garden, its conservation mandate, and the importance of nature. With solid walls that protect visitors from the busy street and transparent walls that open the building toward the Garden, the building houses a café, library, volunteer facilities, garden shop, offices, and flexible classroom/rental spaces.
The Garden’s mission is one of conservation, and the Visitor Centre was designed with the same philosophy in mind. Mimicking natural systems, it collects water, harvests sunlight, and stores energy until needed. Through mapping and analyzing the Garden’s ecology, the project team was able to integrate natural and human systems, restoring biodiversity and ecological balance to the site. The building’s green roof and surrounding landscape were carefully designed to include only native plants, forming a series of distinct ecological zones; a vegetated land ramp was included to connect the roof to the ground plane, encouraging use by local fauna; and old-growth trees were carefully preserved, facilitating an ecologically balanced system of wetlands, rain gardens, and streams.
Designed to exceed LEED Platinum status, the Visitor Centre is the first building in Canada to apply for the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The building uses on-site, renewable sources to achieve net-zero energy on an annual basis. Wood is the primary building material, storing carbon dioxide for the life of the building. Rainwater is filtered and used for the building’s greywater requirements; 100% of blackwater is treated by an on-site bioreactor—the first of its kind in Vancouver—and released into a new percolation field located in the garden. Natural ventilation is assisted by a solar chimney, composed of an operable glazed oculus and a perforated aluminum heatsink, which converts the sun’s rays to convection energy. Summer sun shines on darker surfaces to enhance ventilation further. Located in the centre of the atrium, and exactly at the centre of all the building’s various radiating geometry, the solar chimney highlights the role of sustainablility by form and function.
While similarly complex building forms—like Spain’s Guggenheim Bilbao Museum or the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington—have been achieved through the use of steel or concrete, this is believed to be the first example of panelized wood use for such a geometrically complex form. Curving along all three axes, the roof structure includes 71 different panels, each made of over 100 unique curved glulam beams. The panels were prefabricated and pre-installed with thermal insulation, sprinkler pipes, lighting conduits, acoustic liner, and wood ceiling slats.A novel, universal ‘one-size-fits-all’ panel-to-column connection accommodates unique geometric conditions at every support location.