Mayor Bloomberg and other public officials inaugurate the new portal to the Garden, celebrating the unique synthesis of architecture, landscape, and ecology Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers free admission and family activities on June 2
Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) opens its new Visitor Center today, marking the completion of a key component of the most significant renewal effort at the Garden since its founding over a century ago. Designed by the innovative New York–based firm Weiss/Manfredi, the project was recognized by the New York City Public Design Commission with a 2008 Award for Excellence in Design.
The Visitor Center opens with a series of special events, beginning with an opening celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Bloomberg and other New York City and State officials on Wednesday, May 16. On Saturday, June 2, BBG invites visitors to Amble: BBG’s June Jubilee to experience the new Visitor Center and explore the Garden with free admission, music, and special urban gardening activities.
The Visitor Center is a remarkable synthesis of architecture and landscape design, replacing a modest gate on Washington Avenue with an enticing entry into the 52-acre garden. The building houses interpretive exhibits and a room for orienting tour groups; a dramatic, leaf-shaped event space; an expanded store offering garden-related products and plants; and other visitor amenities. Conceived as a seamless extension of the Garden’s landscape, the sinuous glass structure is embedded in an existing hillside at the Garden’s northeast corner.
Composed of two linked forms that seem to appear, disappear, and change shape as the visitor moves through and around them, the building offers a new sequence of views into and through the Garden. In addition, the Visitor Center incorporates numerous environmentally sustainable features—most notably a 10,000-square-foot living roof—that are aimed toward earning LEED Gold certification.
“This is a tremendous moment in Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s history, as the Garden embraces its second century of service to New York City with an extraordinary new Visitor Center,” said Scot Medbury, president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “The Visitor Center is both an extension and elevation of the Garden’s topography, softening the transition from the gray to the green and underscoring the Garden’s long-standing commitment to connecting the urban and natural worlds in new and forward-thinking ways.”
“Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a fantastic place to learn about and develop a deeper appreciation of the natural world,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Thanks to an extraordinary public-private partnership and an innovative design, this new Visitor Center will provide a welcoming place for people from across the street and around the globe to learn about sustainability and the Garden’s remarkable collections.”
In response to increased attendance at the Garden, ongoing revitalization in Brooklyn, and growing interest in urban horticulture and sustainability, BBG is in the midst of creating a suite of new and enhanced gardens, facilities, and programs. Other notable projects include a new Herb Garden, a Woodland Garden, and an expanded Native Flora Garden. In addition, an ambitious series of renovations at the southern end of BBG will soon be underway, including a new Water Garden, a water conservation project, and a new children’s Discovery Garden designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, as well as an expanded and redesigned public entrance at Flatbush Avenue by Architecture Research Office.
Visitor Center Design
The 20,000-square-foot Visitor Center was conceived as a new threshold between the city and Brooklyn Botanic Garden that transitions from an architectural presence at the street to a structured landscape within the Garden. The Visitor Center invites visitors from Washington Avenue into the Garden via a curved glass trellis before opening into major garden precincts like the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and Cherry Esplanade.
The primary entry from Washington Avenue is visible from the street; an additional entry from the elevated Overlook and Ginkgo Allée at the top of the berm bisects the Visitor Center, revealing framed views of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and descends through a stepped ramp to the main level of the Garden.
The curved glass walls of the Visitor Center offer veiled views into the Garden, their fritted glass filtering light and deterring bird strikes. In contrast to the southern face of the building, the north side is built into a preexisting berm, which increases thermal efficiency. Its clerestory glazing—along with the fritted glass on the south walls—minimizes heat gain and maximizes natural illumination. A geoexchange system heats and cools the interior spaces, and a series of rain gardens collect and filter runoff to improve storm-water management.
The leaf-shaped living roof hosts over 40,000 plants—grasses, spring bulbs, and perennial wildflowers—adding a new experimental landscape to the Garden’s collection. The green roof will change throughout the year, literally transforming the nature of the architecture each season. The Washington Avenue side of the building features a pleated copper roof that echoes the Garden’s landmarked 1917 McKim, Mead & White Administration Building and will ultimately weather to green.
Nearly 60,000 plants were installed around the Visitor Center, including cherry, magnolia, and tupelo trees; viburnums; native roses; and three rain gardens full of water-loving plants. In combination with the green roof, this ambitious installation seamlessly weaves the Visitor Center into the green tapestry of the Garden.
“Brooklyn Botanic Garden is an extraordinary oasis in the city and a living museum with a collection in constant flux,” stated Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, principals at Weiss/Manfredi. “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.”
Visitor Center Facilities & Programming
Orientation and educational tools within the new Visitor Center gallery will help guests of all ages and levels of horticultural expertise understand and appreciate the rich diversity, history, and multifaceted beauty of the Garden. In collaboration with award-winning exhibition designers Thinc Design and other consultants, BBG created videos, interactive state-of-the-art exhibits, a multimedia map with animated seasonal highlights, and a plant identification game to orient, engage and inform audiences of all ages.
The exhibits, several of which will change as the Garden changes throughout the year, include hands-on interactive displays to teach visitors how to read a plant label, use botanical vocabulary, or understand basic tenets of landscape design.
Visitors can quickly find out what is happening around the Garden in real time, including what is currently in bloom, events or activities of the day, and areas of special interest. A dedicated section of the Visitor Center gallery will highlight the concept of seasonal change in the Garden with an artistic time-lapse media display illustrating the year-round nature of BBG.
The Visitor Center also highlights special programming elsewhere at BBG, such as Urban Garden, the summer exhibit on view in Steinhardt Conservatory Gallery from June 2 – September 23, 2012. Inspired by the Visitor Center and its landscape, Urban Garden offers ideas and tips to inspire urban dwellers to creatively meet the challenges of growing plants in the city. The exhibition includes information on container gardening, vertical gardening, houseplants, and a look at BBG’s innovative community horticulture outreach program Greenbridge. To complement the exhibit, BBG’s Terrace Café will feature a new display of edible plants, and reveal a seasonal menu that incorporates herbs and produce from BBG’s own Herb Garden.
The Lillian and Amy Goldman Atrium, a space for special events and public programs, opens onto the Garden’s iconic Cherry Walk and Cherry Esplanade. The atrium is filled with light from the curved, fritted glass walls of the south-facing facade as well as the north-facing windows. The north wall of the space is faced with honey-colored wood panels hewn from a gingko tree harvested from the site before construction began.The Visitor Center also includes the Garden Shop with ample outdoor sales space for plants and garden-related products specially selected with urban gardeners in mind—in addition to gifts and souvenirs, tailored towards visitors of all ages.
Lead funding for the new Visitor Center has been provided by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the City of New York through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Speaker Christine C. Quinn and the New York City Council, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and The Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust and The Amy P. Goldman Foundation.
In recognition of leadership support from The Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust and The Amy P. Goldman Foundation, the event space in the Visitor Center has been named the Lillian and Amy Goldman Atrium.
Additional support was provided by United States Representative Yvette D. Clarke and the United States Department of Energy, New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York Economic Development Assistance Program, The Achelis and Bodman Foundations, Booth Ferris Foundation, Con Edison, Helen V. Froehlich Foundation, Brooklyn Community Foundation, Kresge Foundation Green Building Initiative, National Grid, New York State Council on the Arts, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden is also grateful for support from the Garden’s Board of Trustees and the foundations, corporations, individuals, and government agencies that have been early supporters of the Campaign for the Next Century. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $80 million.
Primary Project Partners
In addition to Weiss/Manfredi, the Visitor Center has involved an inspiring group of talented design, engineering, and construction partners, including HM White Site Architects (landscape architects); Thinc Design (exhibition designers); the LiRo Group (construction management); E.W. Howell (general contractor); Weidlinger Associates (structural and civil engineers); Langan (geothermal, geotechnical, and environmental consultants); Viridian Energy & Environment (sustainability consultants); Jaros, Baum & Bolles Consulting Engineers (M/E/P/FP and IT engineers)—and Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s own staff.
About Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Founded in 1910, Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is an independent nonprofit institution committed to education, science, and horticultural display. The Garden is located on property owned by the City of New York, and its operation is made possible in part by public funds provided through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. For more than a century, BBG has served communities in New York City and internationally through its extraordinary gardens, extensive living collections, and pioneering educational and community programs.
The Garden continues today its legacy of educating new generations of environmental stewards. Situated on 52 acres in the heart of Brooklyn and originally laid out by the Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm, BBG is home to more than 12,000 types of plants and hosts more than 725,000 visitors annually. Brooklyn Botanic Garden was rated Brooklyn’s number one tourist attraction in Zagat’s 2008 Best of Brooklyn. For more information, visit bbg.org.
Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism is a multidisciplinary design practice based in New York City. Founded by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, the firm is known for the dynamic integration of architecture, art, infrastructure, and landscape design. The firm’s projects, including the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, the Barnard College Diana Center, and the Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, exemplify the potential of architecture to transform public space. The firm recently won the national competition to redesign the Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater on the National Mall in Washington D.C., and has won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the international VR Green Prize for Urban Design. They have also been named one of North America's "Emerging Voices" by the Architectural League of New York, and received the New York City AIA Gold Medal of Honor. Michael Manfredi has been the Gensler Visiting Professor at Cornell University and Marion Weiss is the Graham Chair Professor of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.