Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center in Brooklyn, New York, NY by WEISS/MANFREDI, 2012.

On  May 16 the Brooklyn Botanic Garden opened its new Visitor Center designed by New York City's WEISS/MANFREDI; a week later I made a visit. Located on Washington Avenue, the northeastern corner of the garden and Prospect Park, of which BBG occupies a triangular section, the Visitor Center comes two years after BBG turned 100 years old. The building is a fitting addition to the garden as BBG advances in its second century; it is a good precedent for building sustainably and for merging building and landscape.

Serving as the main entrance to BBG, the Visitor Center bridges the city and the garden. The Washington Avenue side is defined by a concrete wall (photo at left) and a plaza (right photo); the former is capped by a folded roof and clerestory windows, while the latter funnels visitors towards a gap in the building and the garden beyond. The movement through and along the building culminates in another plaza on the building's far garden-side (top photo), next to the leaf-shaped event space.

Nested into an existing berm, the center is experienced as a three dimensional continuation of the garden path system, framing a series of views into and through the garden. -WEISS/MANFREDI

All architecture needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated, but the Visitor Center is one of those buildings that requires a visit to really understand. Photos convey the many qualities of the building, but they cannot capture the way the various paths intersect with the enclosed spaces to create architecture embedded rather than atop the landscape. By maintaining exist paths, architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi let the landscape influence the building's form, rather than creating an imposing architecture. Projects like the Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington illustrate their ability and sensitivity in this regard.

The three main components of the architecture (enclosed) program are (from city to garden): garden shop, interpretive center, and event space. Each of these spaces is separated from the other by one of the pathways. But the fluid shape of the plan and the overarching form of the living roof (copper at the eastern end) gives the impression of one project, not three unique pavilions. The bowed form of the roof over the event space accentuates this living roof, done with landscape consultant HM White (check out a time-lapse of the installation here), but other sustainable features predominate, including geothermal wells whose caps are signaled on the paths. Other educational signage is integrated into the various green building and landscape features, making the building as much a place of learning as one of enjoyment.