With its 10,000-square-foot living roof and innovative design that includes a two-walled, leaf-shaped atrium, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new visitor center offers a bold departure from the 102-year-old garden’s Beaux-Arts Palm House or 1917 Administration Building.
The 20,000-square-foot glass, steel and concrete building is slated to open next week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony which Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to attend next Wednesday. But the press got a tour this week with its architects, the husband-and-wife team of Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi.
“When I first came to the garden, I felt like I had discovered this place personally and wondered if anybody else knew about it. It felt infinite and intimate at the same time,” Weiss said.
The couple won the contract by suggesting moving the building to Washington Avenue instead of at the west end of the parking where it would have opened onto the cherry esplanade. The new site not only offers a welcoming entrance on Washington Avenue but also allows visitors to discover the garden little by little instead of encountering a grand vista at the threshold.
“It was very important to Marion and I to pay homage to that kind of discovery,” Manfredi said.
The visitor’s center begins with a public plaza that includes a small rain garden. Visitors then face two glass buildings, a gift-shop and a long, thin, curving room that holds interpretive exhibits—such as a plant identification game—and a small café. Off of that is the leaf-shaped, double height event space, which, Weiss said, is the only two-walled room she knows of in the world.
The event space opens out to a terrace where visitors can follow steps up to the living roof or ginko pavillion or a path to the cherry esplanade.
The building was constructed with the goal of LEED Gold certfication. The building has "fritted" glass windows that filters sunlight (and deters birds from flying into it), a geoexchange heating and cooling system that pipes water below ground to where it’s 50 degrees, and brings it back to pipes under the atrium's floor. And, because it's built partially into the hillside, 60 percent of the building is insulated by the ground.
Around the visitor center are nearly 100,000 new plants, including grasses, bulbs and wildflowers on the living roof and native roses, viburnums, and cherry, magnolia and tupleo trees around the building.
The buildings that make up the Visitors Center are all curved lines that either follow the landscape or the vegetation. The line of the gift shop, for example, follows the canopy of a 60-year-old green-blossomed cherry tree.
The garden began construction on the building four years ago to accommodate the influx of visitors during such events as the , which draws up to 37,000 visitors in a single day leading to hour-or-more waits to get in. “We weren’t really scaled for that,” said BBG President Scot Medbury.
Medbury said he hopes the project will create the enticing entrance the garden’s turnstile gates had lacked.
“We envision this as opening our arms to the community,” he said.