Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi describe their design of the new visitor centre at New York’s botanical garden as follows: “Brooklyn Botanic Garden is an extraordinary oasis in the city and a living museum with a collection in constant flux. We envisioned the Visitor Center as a living interface that creates an invitation from the city into the Garden – a demonstration of the compelling reciprocity between architecture and landscape. Just as the Garden inspires wandering, we designed the center so that it is never seen in its entirety but is experienced cinematically as an unfolding place of discovery.”
Covering fifty-two acres and with a world-class collection of plants, the garden is visually separated from the city by trees and high embankments. It contains a wide variety of landscapes organized into separate areas, including the Japanese Garden, the Cherry Esplanade with over 200 cherry trees, the Osborne Garden, the Overlook and the Cranford Rose Garden.
The entrance to the centre is on Washington Avenue, along the embankment that separates the Brooklyn Museum parking lot from the Botanic Gardens. It is clearly visible from the street and acts as a legible point of access and orientation. The building, which covers 1,850 square meters (19,910 sq.ft.), comprises an orientation room, a shop dedicated to the world of plants, a café, an events space and an exhibition gallery. A wooden ramp provides access to a roof garden.
With its green roof, the architecture forms a natural extension of the site’s existing topography. Weiss / Manfredi have designed a double structure with a serpentine form wrapped in curving glass walls that extends along a hill. By forming a kind of garden path through its natural setting, it allows visitors to discover the different environments as they proceed.
The curved glass walls of the gallery mediate between the architecture and the landscape, while the fitted glass filters light, offering visitors veiled views of the garden. The steel-framed superstructure gives form to the undulating roof. The building uses earth mass and spectrally selective fritted glass to create a high-performance building envelope that minimizes heat gains and maximizes natural light. A heat exchange system with geothermal pumps is used to heat and cool the interior spaces. The green roof – a genuine ‘living’ roof with 40 thousand plants that change with the changing seasons – contributes to the building's insulation. A system for managing storm water and rainwater collection harvesting for irrigating a number of green terraces also contribute to energy saving and the building’s environmental sustainability.
The design has won the New York City Public Design Commission award for excellence in design, while LEED Gold certification is pending.