Why the Visitor Centre at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens deserves a place on the grand tour of sustainable buildings


If Cliff Richard had been a sustainability consultant this is the summer holiday he would have taken. A grand tour of the world’s most sustainable buildings where the sun not only shines brightly but glints from photovoltaic panels, and where the sea is blue, perhaps partly because all the grey water in the nearby town is being recycled.

Both the UK and the rest of the world have a lot to offer the sustainability tourist from the Co-op headquarters’ sparkling glass facade in Manchester to the bees on the roof of Le Hive in Paris. Leading industry figures have picked the buildings they think should inspire our efforts towards zero carbon.

This week, the grand tour has taken us to the London 2012 velodrome, Le Hive in Paris, Bournville Village in Birmingham, the Co-op HQ in Manchester and Geoffrey Bawa’s house in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Today, Grimshaw’s Andrew Whalley takes us to the Visitor Center at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

Visitor Center at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, New York

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center

Source: KJBO

Andrew Whalley

New York City has seen an increase in both sustainability and design initiatives under the guidance of mayor Michael Bloomberg. The new Visitor Center at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is an excellent example of the intersection of the two. Tucked into a hillside which extends onto a vast green roof, the center is a transition space between the lush green of the garden’s Prospect Park location and the strict urban grid of the adjacent city. The commission was awarded to local New York firm Weiss/Manfredi under the city’s Design Excellence Program, which was created to increase the quality of contemporary civic architecture.

As a practice we have created a number of buildings for botanical attractions, so the design hits close to home as it seeks to educate visitors within a pleasant environment in tune with the outside world around it. Natural light floods into the spaces through extensive glazing, blurring the line between the architecture and nature. The building’s form gracefully navigates the topography of the adjacent park and gardens, bringing the park into the building, and the building in the park.

The Design Excellence Program has not only raised the quality of design across all of the city’s new buildings, but it has also supported and ensured a much more rigorous approach to sustainable design. The quiet exuberance of the Visitor Center is an excellent manifestation of this program and creates a benchmark project which demonstrates New York’s vision for sustainability.

Andrew Whalley, deputy chairman, Grimshaw