Architects: Weiss Manfredi
Photography: Albert Večerka/Esto
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
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 heatexchange 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.