Thursday, July 9, 2009

Botanic Garden Unveils Plans For 'Green' Visitor Center

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) last week released plans for its new Visitor Center pavilion, which is slated to replace the current entrance adjacent to the northern parking lot at 900 Washington Ave. The project will break ground this summer and is planned to open in spring 2011.

As the first new structure built at the garden in 20 years and designed by architecture firm Weiss/Manfredi — architects of the Seattle Art Museum’s celebrated Olympic Sculpture Park — the 22,000-square-foot complex will house a new garden shop, an orientation room for tours and classes, an information desk, an event space, a refreshment bar and restrooms.

Visitors will cross a welcoming plaza, accented with plantings, to enter the new building. From the entrance, the center will extend westward toward the Cherry Esplanade.

Conceived as a seamless extension of the Garden’s landscape, the sinuous glass building, nestled into an existing berm at the Garden’s northeast corner, will serve as a three-dimensional continuation of the garden path system, framing a series of views into and through the Garden.

“Some of the world’s best buildings take their cues from natural settings,” said BBG President Scot Medbury. “Our vision for the new Visitor Center is that it should be an extension of the landscape, not just serving as a physical entry to the Garden but creating opportunities to enrich the visitor experience so that even before they begin their Garden tour, they will be transported.”

While the form and materials of the new building will echo historic structures at the Garden, its design and function will belong to the 21st century as the Garden’s first green structure, certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The Visitor Center will apply to receive a LEED Gold certification.

Sustainable design elements featured in the new center will include recycled building materials, passive solar components, geothermal heating, and bioswales (recessed catchment zones filled with water-loving plants) that will improve storm-water management and relieve the burden on the municipal sewer system.

The design will also feature a “living roof” that will utilize a wide range of native and/or drought-resistant plants, offering both energy savings and seasonal displays.

“We are in awe of both the exceptional beauty and the environmental sustainability of this innovative design,” said Medbury. “The new Visitor Center will physically embody our institutional commitment to conservation. We hope it will also inspire our neighbors and visitors to think about how they can incorporate green solutions into their own homes, businesses and lives.”

Weiss/Manfredi’s design was presented with a prestigious Award for Excellence in Design by the Public Design Commission of the City of New York. The award recognizes the superb integration of form, function, and sustainable practice in the design of the Garden’s new Visitor Center.

“A botanic garden is an unusual kind of museum with a living collection that is constantly changing,” said Marion Weiss, principal at Weiss/Manfredi. “The new Visitor Center is conceived as inhabitable topography, defining the threshold between the city and the Garden. Like the Garden itself, the building is experienced cinematically and is never seen in its entirety.”

“To provoke curiosity and interest in the world-class collection, the new building will provide a legible point of arrival and orientation, an interface between culture and cultivation,” said Michael Manfredi, also a principal at the firm.

“A chameleon-like structure, the Visitor Center transitions from an architectural presence at the street into a structured landscape within the Garden. The building redefines the physical and philosophical relationship between visitor and garden, introducing new connections between landscape and structure, exhibition and movement.”

The Visitor Center’s design was approved by the Design Commission in June 2008. Lead funding for the Visitor Center has been provided by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York City Council, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Representative Yvette C. Clarke.

Rendering courtesy of Weiss/Manfredi

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