A notorious old landfill in Louisville, Kentucky is being transformed into the new Waterfront Botanical Gardens, a verdant 23.5-acre site designed by architecture firm Perkins + Will. At the heart of the newly opened gardens is the 6,000-square-foot Graeser Family Education Center — also designed by Perkins + Will — that features an organic, sinuous form evocative of the nearby Ohio River. Engineered for a small environmental footprint, the energy-efficient building is powered with geothermal energy.

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plants in front of curved wood building

Opened last fall as part of the first phase of the Waterfront Botanical Gardens, the Graeser Family Education Center doubles as an events venue that seamlessly connects to an outdoor landscaped plaza. Because the site was used as a landfill, massive concrete supports and concrete-filled steep pipes were put underground to secure the building. Above ground, the long spans of the horizontal building are supported by a continuous, ribbon-like beam propped up with 99 pine columns that alternate with glass windows around a 300-foot perimeter. The names of the $10,000 donors to the project have been added to each column. The wood will develop a natural patina over time.

Related: Perkins + Will’s KTTC building blends beauty and sustainability in Ontario

desk with white office chairs near curved wall of wood-framed windows
people gathered in conference room

The long roof overhang mitigates unwanted solar gain while the glass walls let in ample natural light and continuous views of the gardens on all sides. The building functions as the heart of all educational programming at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens and includes a large, multifunctional space for activities as well as event space with seating for about 250 people.

fresh landscaping and plants in front of curved wood building
gardens surrounding a rounded wood building

The education center has easy access to the outdoor plaza, which has been landscaped with edible gardens, native gardens and pollinator gardens, all of which are fully accessible to visitors and feature hands-on learning. The last part of phase one is set to open in 2020 and will include the Beargrass Creek Overlook and an immersive allée. Future phases include a visitors center, an entry garden, a water filtration garden, outdoor garden spaces and a glass conservatory.

+ Perkins + Will

Photography by James Steinkamp Photography via Perkins + Will