Visitors enter the new facility through ornate white wrought iron fences, which swing open at a 90 degree angle and meet a sunken rain garden. The garden will catch storm overflow, and by summer should be lush with grass and plants. A short jaunt up a gentle hill leads to the convergence of two sloping structures joined by a curvilinear roof. The area on the left will house the BBG’s new gift shop, while the right serves as the main welcome center.
Inside, the structure is a mass of organic shapes and lines. The welcome center hall features educational and interactive videos about the plants and wildlife in the surrounding gardens, as well as signs about sustainable building- which can also be seen around the grounds. The highlight of the interior is the enormous leaf-shaped event space that is comprised of only two arched walls that span to double the height of the welcome center. The glass walls are etched with a pattern that keeps birds from flying into them, but also creates a symbiosis with the lines of trees outside. The strips of wood paneling inside were made from milled Gingko trees cleared from the site. Outside of the event space is a patio for visitors to rest or sit and contemplate the nearby gardens.
Around sixty percent of the visitor center, including the kitchen and utility areas, is nestled within the base of the adjacent hill. The hill creates natural insulation for the entire building, and heat is captured through 28 geothermic wells that line the perimeter of the visitor center area; these are visible by BBG logo stamped caps on the path outside. The heat captured is used in the radiant floor. The site also uses a re-circulated and recycled water system.
The building’s crowning glory is the 10,000 square foot green roof, which is accessible through a staircase along the outside of the building. After passing through a tunnel underneath the green roof, visitors can sit on a hill of benches to admire the lush grass roof, or walk up the hill a bit to get a view of the grass juxtaposed with the historic architecture that surrounds the neighborhood.
Although the new Visitor Center opens next week, the BBG will be celebrating on June 2nd by offering free admission and a roster of family activities.
Images ©Lori Zimmer for Inhabitat