Welcome to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Sinuous Visitor Center Integrated into the Landscape
Adjacent to the western edge of the green roof atop the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Visitor Center, the building’s south-facing meadow (foreground) separates a ramped promenade linking the overlook at the top of the berm and the ginkgo terrace (left). The meadow landscape offers ‘Winter King’ green hawthorn trees, ‘Regent’ serviceberry, grasses, perennials (‘Starlight Prairie Blues’ wild indigo, New England blazing star) and ‘Pagoda’ trout lily bulbs. (See p. 47 image for bird’s eye view of south meadow.)
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other prominent local officials were on hand May 16, 2012 to inaugurate the new portal to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), a visitor center that is a synthesis of architecture, landscape architecture
The venerable BBG, founded in 1910 in the heart of Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue, was originally designed by the Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm. BBG is a nonprofit that resides on land owned by the city. Its operation is possible, in part, by public funds from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.
BBG, of course, is devoted to horticultural education and science, displaying more than 12,000 types of plants. It now has 13 gardens: Cherry; Children’s; Discovery (a new garden designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates); Fragrance; Herb; Japanese; Lily Pool; Native Flora; Osborne; Plant Family; Rock; Rose; and Shakespeare. There are five conservatories (aquatic, bonsai, desert, tropical, warm temperate), plus popular collections: flowering cherries, lilacs, magnolia plaza, orchids, roses and tree peonies.
A new Water Garden and water conservation project are underway, as well as an expanded and redesigned public entrance at Flatbush Avenue by Architecture Research Office.
A modest gateway on Washington Avenue used to be the entry into the BBG on Washington Avenue at Classon Avenue. Now, there is a landscaped plaza leading to the new Visitor Center, designed by the architects of Manhattan–based Weiss/Manfredi. The New York City Public Design Commission recognized the BBG Visitor Center with an Award for Excellence in Design.
The new Visitor Center to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is entered from Washington Avenue onto a plaza (upper right). There are 100 kinds of plants around the Visitor Center, but 90 of them are new species/cultivars added to the BBG collection. There are 100,000 plants in all, 60,000 at ground level, including 130 trees, 600 shrubs, thousands of herbaceous plants and 40,000 plants on the living roof (that sinuous, leaf-shaped green area (right).
Visitor Center Design
The new Visitor Center is a sinuous steel-framed glass building nearly two blocks long at the northeast corner of the garden, just up the hill from the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.
In front of the building is light colored concrete plaza with banner poles and sunken trapezoidal planters, better known as rain gardens to landscape architects. HM White of New York City was the landscape architecture consultant. HM White worked closely with BBG’s horticulture staff to select plants underrepresented in the garden’s collections, while incorporating some familiar favorites and many new cultivars native to the region. There are 100 kinds of plants around the Visitor Center, but 90 of them are new species/cultivars added to the BBG collection. There are 100,000 plants in all: 60,000 at ground level—including 130 trees, 600 shrubs and thousands of herbaceous plants—and 40,000 on the living roof.
To access the gardens, guests walk under a curved glass trellis breezeway that evokes the garden’s winding pathways, also reflected in the undulating green roof. There’s an additional entry to the building on the north side at the top of the berm.
The north side of the building is tucked into a preexisting berm. This positioning increases the building’s thermal efficiency, while blending building and topography. The center is composed of two linked forms that present through the large frames of glass almost cinematic sequence of views into the gardens.
The dramatic building houses interpretive exhibits, a room for orienting tour groups, a leaf-shaped event space and an expanded store offering garden products and plants. Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, principals at Weiss/Manfred, note the BBG collection is 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.”
The roofs of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden are oriented east-west. The copper-clad east side roof is atop the gift shop and fronts Washington Avenue. This will soon oxidize to a greenish shade to closer match the living roof.
The western edge of the Visitor Center is the Lillian and Amy Goldman Atrium, a space for special events. The atrium is constructed of custom-fritted laminated glass and stainless steel. (“Fritted” glass is a fused ceramic composition.) The leaf-shaped patio has a rain garden planted with sweet bay magnolias (right) and a large wall to retain the slope of the berm. Exterior stairs (right) gives visitors access to the roof terrace.
Credit: © Albert Vecerka/Esto
Scot Medbury, president of BBG, rightly describes the Visitor Center as 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.”
The center’s “fritted glass envelope” minimizes heat gain and maximize sunlight illumination. A geoexchange system of 28 thermal wells heats and cools the interior. Much of the structure and landscaping uses concrete and steel containing postconsumer and postindustrial recycled materials. Interior wood paneling was milled from gingko trees harvested from the building site.
Washington Avenue Border Planting
Washington Avenue is the eastern border of the BBG Visitor Center. Just south of the entry plaza are ‘Moraine’ sweetgum trees and flowering fragrant snowbell and ‘Arnold Pink’ Carolina silverbell trees. There’s a variety of dense evergreen boxwood shrubs, interplanted with blue wood, Pennsylvania and seersucker sedges, plus Christmas and tassel ferns and ‘Flore Pleno’ snowdrop bulbs.
Entry Plaza Rain Gardens
The large trapezoidal gardens greeting visitors at the Visitor Center’s entry plaza collect rainwater runoff flowing from the living roof, hillside and paved surfaces. The basins feature a collection of riparian (water-loving) plants designed to engage the eye with different textures and colors throughout the seasons. The rain gardens are planted with trees with vibrant red and gold fall foliage, including black gums and birches. There are wild white hyacinth bulbs, summer-flowering perennials (thread-leaf blue star, blue star, blue flag iris and great blue lobelia), shrubs (large fothergilla, broad-leaf meadowsweet, steeplebush), and soft rushes and switchgrasses. The rain gardens are accented with river stones to indicate to visitors the water-collecting purpose of the basins.
The center has dual roofs: a pleated copper top on the east side nearest Washington Avenue, reminiscent of the garden’s 1917 McKim, Mead & White Administration Building, and a larger leaf-shaped living roof extending west. The copper roof will age over time to a green color that will better blend with the living roof.
The undulating 10,000-square-foot roof meadow is the dominant horticultural element visible from the Washington Avenue approach to the Visitor Center. Together with BBG’s horticulture staff, architects Weiss/Manfredi, and living roof system provider Roofscapes, HM White developed a series of test boxes for the living roof plantings. They settled on three mixes of meadow grasses, summer-blooming perennials, and spring bulbs, planted in swaths of contrasting colors to make a bold multi-seasonal display. The grasses will be trimmed back each year in late winter as the bulbs (snowdrop and narcissus) begin to emerge, heralding spring.
At the top of the berm, the north side of the building, is a mature allée of ginkgo trees along the Overlook, a semi-shaded terrace leading to the Visitor Center. The terraces, also planted with ginkgos, comprise a graduated series of steps and benches. There’s an evergreen hedge backdrop along the ginkgo allée. Sinewy American hornbeam and hophornbeam trees, considered important additions to the garden’s collection, frame the planted hillside.
Large trapezoidal gardens accented with river stones at the Visitor Center’s entry plaza collect rainwater runoff from the green roof, hillside and paved surfaces. The basins feature riparian plants: wild white hyacinth (spring-flowering bulbs); summer-flowering perennials (thread-leaf blue star, ‘Blue Ice’ blue star, ‘Gerald Darby’ blue flag iris and great blue lobelia); grasses (Gold Strike’ soft rush, ‘Ruby Ribbons’ switchgrass); shrubs (‘Mount Airy’ large fothergilla, broad-leaf meadowsweet and steeplebush); and trees (sweet birch, ‘White Spire’ gray birch and black gum - ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Red Rage’).
The Visitor Center opens out into major garden areas like the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and Cherry Esplanade. Here, the southern building façade curves around the garden’s rare green-flowering cherry tree.
Credit: © Albert Vecerka/Esto
There’s also a mix of woodland sedges and ferns interplanted with spring and summer flowers. In late winter the terraces will burst with the white blossoms of bloodroot and transition into textural drifts of delicate foliage highlighting the conspicuous spring spathes and red fall berries of Arisaema specimens.
The sloped berm abutting the Visitor Center has been dramatically transformed into a layered meadow displaying broad swaths of color and texture throughout the seasons. The meadow plantings highlight the sculpted landform and feature native grasses, shrubs, and flowering perennials that complement the living roof and Cherry Esplanade.
The south-facing meadow defines a ramped promenade linking the overlook at the top of the berm and the ginkgo terrace to the Visitor Center. The landscape comprises ‘Winter King’ green hawthorn trees, ‘Regent’ serviceberry, grasses, perennials (‘Starlight Prairie Blues’ wild indigo, New England blazing star) and ‘Pagoda’ trout lily bulbs.
The north-facing meadow forms a dramatic backdrop to the entry plaza and is home to a century-old ginkgo tree, transplanted from the building site. At its highest point is a collection of eastern red cedar trees and hollies. There are also shrubs (‘Blue Mist’ dwarf fothergilla, smooth withered and ‘Winterthur’), grasses, perennials (‘Bluebird’ smooth aster, wild indigo, turk’s cap lily, Virginia bluebell, wild bergamot, sundrop, whorled rosinweed, broadleaf ironweed, ‘Fascination’ Culver’s root) and giant snowdrop bulbs.
The overlook is a semi-shaded terrace at the backside of the Visitor Center. ‘Manhattan’ euonymus evergreen hedges, a ginkgo allée and sinewy American hornbeam and hophornbeam trees set the garden tableau. The hillside has a mix of Appalachian sedge, wavy hairgrass and ferns (autumn and eastern wood), interplanted with spring and summer flowers (green dragon, jack-in-the-pulpit, hairy beardtongue and bloodroot). In late winter, the terraces will burst with the white blossoms of bloodroot and transition into textural drifts of delicate foliage highlighting the conspicuous spring spathes and red fall berries of Arisaema specimens.
HM White, the landscape architecture consultant, developed a series of test boxes for the living roof plantings before settling on three mixes: meadow grasses, summer-blooming perennials and spring bulbs planted in swaths of contrasting colors. Grasses include sideoats grama, prairie Junegrass, ‘The Blues’ little bluestem and prairie dropseed. The perennials are butterfly weed, purple prairie clover, dwarf blazing star and ‘Pink Dawn’ foxglove beardtongue, with snowdrop and hoop petticoat daffodil bulbs. This is the green roof as it appeared in the spring. The grasses will be trimmed back each year in late winter as the bulbs begin to emerge.
The Lillian and Amy Goldman Atrium is the western terminus of the building. It is named in recognition of the support from the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust and the Amy Goldman Foundation. The atrium is filled with light from the curved glass walls of the south-facing facade and the north-facing windows. The north wall of the space is faced with wood panels from a gingko tree harvested from the site before construction began.
Outside the atrium is an event terrace and an additional rain garden with fragrant white-flowering sweet bay magnolia trees. Magnolias are also planted on the adjacent hillside, anchoring a collection of native roses that prepares visitors for the experience of the Cranford Rose Garden to the west. Dwarf crested iris adorn the sloped meadow surface in spring, followed by the vibrant pink hues of the roses and summer-blossoming pale purple coneflower. Bordering the terrace to the south, additional cherry tree specimens expand the garden’s collection and connect the terrace with the Cherry Esplanade.
Visitor Center Facilities & Programming
The new Visitor Center gallery helps guests of all ages and levels of horticultural understanding learn and appreciate the diversity and history of the garden. In collaboration with award-winning exhibition designers Thinc Design and other consultants, BBG created videos, interactive exhibits, a multimedia map with animated seasonal highlights, and a plant identification game. 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 the basics 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. One gallery highlights the seasonal change in the garden with an artistic time-lapse media display.
The Visitor Center invites visitors from Washington Avenue into the garden via a curved glass trellis that forms a shaded breezeway. The gift shop is left; the ticketing area, right.
BBG’s Campaign for the Next Century has raised nearly $80 million. Lead funding for the new Visitor Center came from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs); Speaker Christine Quinn (NYC City Council); Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz; and the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust and the Amy Goldman Foundation. There have been more than 850 individuals, foundations, and corporations involved in this campaign.
BBG Visitor Center Team
Architect: Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism, New York
Michael Manfredi, FAIA, Marion Weiss, FAIA (design partners); Armando Petruccelli (project architect/manager)
Landscape Architecture Consultant: HM White Site Architecture
Cerami & Associates/TM Technology
Building and Fire Code Consultant: Code Consultants
Building Department Consultant: Design 2147
Concrete Consultant: Reginald Hough
Construction Management: LiRo Group
Exhibit Consultant: Thinc
General Contractor: E.W. Howell
Geothermal/Geotechnical Consultant: Langan Engineering and Environmental
Glazing Consultant: R.A. Heintges & Associates
Lighting Consultant: Brandston Partnership
MEP/FP/IT Engineers: Jaros, Baum and Bolles Consulting Engineers
Specifications Consultant: Construction Specifications
Structural and Civil Engineer: Weidlinger Associates Consulting Engineers
Sustainability/Commissioning Consultant:Viridian Energy and Environmental
Waterproofing Consultant: James Gainfort
Cost: $28 million (total construction cost)
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December 11, 2013, 3:11 pm EST
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