The Yew Dell Gardens were originally built by horticulturalist and nurseryman Theodore Klein back in 1943, and includes a variety of unique gardens and hundreds of plants. After Klein’s death in 1998, the garden was threatened by new developments, and in an effort to save the beautiful project, the botanical gardens became part of the Garden Conservancy, which is a national organization dedicated to saving and preserving America’s exceptional gardens.
In 2010, the gardens received private funding to add a visitor and welcome center to the botanical gardens. De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop was brought on to facilitate the rehabilitation of the historic tobacco barn. A building within a building was created to serve as the visitor center, while the historic barn was stabilized and now serves as a shade structure protecting the space within. The new visitor center includes a reception area with information and tickets sales, gift shop, plant sale area, group tour meeting zone, internet sales office and storage.
During periods of low humidity, large frameless glass doors can be left open to increase the size of the space. The use of natural light was a key design element that transforms the building throughout the day. Light filters in through the slats in the barn and through the large doors, bouncing off and filtering through the glass walls and doors. At night, the barn becomes a glowing lantern for the garden as light shines out from inside through the barn slats.
The palette of materials for the project is kept simple with the use of sealed concrete for the floors of the barn, tempered glass and milk-painted tongue & groove wood siding. Strict historic preservation guidelines were followed so that the new construction would be clearly differentiated from the existing structure through light-colored interior wood plank surfaces and material contrasts. Use of the shade structure, natural ventilation and daylighting help minimize energy use within the visitor center.
Images ©Roberto de Leon