VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre

Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture: Inspired by the form of a native orchid leaf, the new state-of-the-art Visitor Centre creates a landmark facility that re-connects people to the environmental issues of the 21st Century including water and energy conservation, topics of re-use and recycling, the aesthetic value of our native plant ecology, further concepts in sustainable building and design. The project is designed to exceed LEED Platinum, and is registered for the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge (LBC) 2.0.

The Musqueam people, like all Aboriginal people throughout the world, lived in harmony with nature. We have respect for all life: we respect the plants that provide the medicines that heal our body, give our body nourishment through the foods that we eat, that clean the soil and water and clean the air that we breathe.
-Jeri Sparrow, Musqueam Elder, Opening Prayer Speech (VanDusen Official Opening October 2011)

Inspired by the form of a native orchid leaf, the new Visitor centre at VanDusen Botanical Garden forges a unique relationship between architecture, landscape, and ecology to create a landmark facility. The design process was highly collaborative between Busby Perkins + Will Architects, Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture Inc. and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architect, the City of Vancouver Parks Board, the Botanical Garden Steering Committee, and multi-consultant design team.

The site of the new Visitor Centre was chosen to give a new ‘front door’ to the gardens, increasing its public presence from Oak Street and thereby welcoming the public into the garden. The dramatic roofline of the building is a visual draw into the clearing and to the landmark Livingston Lake. The overall scope of the project is 5 acres including a 20,000-ft2 footprint of the building.

The integrated and collaborative design followed four overarching objectives:
1. Education: Communicate the importance of plant conservation and biodiversity.
2. Demonstration: Provide a living example of what it means to be a botanical garden in a modern society.
3. Performance: Foster a relationship between building and ecological systems.
4. Identity: Celebrate the concept of nature in the city.

Traditionally, botanical gardens symbolized a human place in the natural world. Botanical gardens were typically organized into plant classifications based on research and education, medicinal and food plants of horticultural significance, as well as aesthetic beauty. The principle role was to maintain and document collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education. The new state-of-the-art Visitor Centre re-connects people to the environmental issues of the 21st Century including water and energy conservation, topics of re-usability and recycling, the aesthetic value of our native plant ecology, and sustainability in building and design.

The 5-acre project site, building, and roof is designed to exceed LEED Platinum and is registered for the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge (LBC) 2.0 which strives to define the highest measure of sustainable design. The LBC is centred on: Regional design characteristics; the building’s ability to generate its own energy, capture and treat all water, use resources efficiently, and maximize health and beauty. These projects must be free of Red List chemicals including chlorinated plastics, heavy metals, pesticides, halogenated flame-retardants, and petroleum based products. All construction details, materials, and specifications were carefully scrutinized and developed to reflect the criteria of the Living Building Challenge for a healthier way of building and design.

The team was in unanimous agreement that building and site appear seamless. The gently sloping terrain was carefully re-graded to preserve 300 significant trees, many of them towering 100-foot Douglas Firs. Large chestnut and walnut trees were retained to create a shady wildlife corridor and habitat for butterflies, small animals and bird life. A distinctive and universally accessible arrival experience integrates a system of wetlands and rain gardens. The series of arrival plazas follow the natural terrain, leading people gently to the building while framing views to the larger landscape, and revealing views to a previously hidden stream and lake.

The planting strategy for garden, roof, and site was inspired by the historical journals of botanist Archibald Menzies with Captain George Vancouver during a journey along the Pacific West Coast in 1792. Building on this vision, a new element of VanDusen Gardens was transformed. Our approach designates five regionally significant planting palettes referring to our Cascadia region including the ecology of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon:

1. Cascadia Pacific Northwest including a Garry Oak Meadow: inspired by Menzies.
2. Green Roof / Wildlife Corridor: Coastal grasslands (native grasses, fescues, together with native perennial bulbs)
3. Wetlands: functioning stormwater infiltration gardens utilized for public demonstration and incorporated into site stormwater management plan
4. Ethno-Botanical Garden: demonstrating plant species significant in the lifestyle of our First Nations
5. Demonstration Food Gardens: adjacent to the cafeteria to highlight plants and herbs for cooking, scent, and beauty

The 1,765-square-metre VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre creates a harmonious balance between architecture and landscape. Inspired by the organic forms and natural systems of a native orchid, the building is organized into undulating green roof ‘petals’ along rammed earth and concrete walls. The facility uses on-site, renewable sources to achieve net-zero energy on an annual basis, sequesters enough carbon to achieve carbon neutrality, uses filtered rainwater for the building’s greywater requirements, and treats 100% of blackwater in an on-site bioreactor. The roof and site plantings was designed without irrigation system.

The roof itself is shaped and divided like the orchid leaves. The green roof was carefully planned to reflect the Pacific Northwest Coastal grassland community and includes over twenty species of plants, bulbs, and grasses. The unique undulating roof planes simulate rolls and hummocks with gentle slopes of 5% to steep +50%. The variety of solar orientation creates multiple opportunities for grassland/bulb plant communities. Roof garden runoff is directed to the existing stream, enhanced infiltration beds, and wetlands in addition to underground cistern.

The VanDusen Visitor Centre celebrates nature and gives all guests the opportunity to take a fresh look at the gardens by learning more about our regional ecology. In redefining the importance of native plants visitors will be able to identify plant material on walks and hikes in the area and become more knowledgeable in using this valuable resource in their own gardens for water conservation, low maintenance, and personal food production. The centre was designed in the spirit of collaboration and is state-of-the-art in addressing concerns of the 21st Century.

Landscape Architects: Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture Inc. in collaboration with Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architect
Project name: VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Design Firm: Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture Inc
Client: VanDusen Botanical Garden
Completed: 2011
Area: Visitor Centre and Site Restoration – 4.2 acres
Roof area: Living Roof – 1,486m2; Blue Roof – 371m2
Budget: $21.9 million CAD
Sustainability target: Leed-NC® Platinum, Living Buiding Challenge 2.1

LANDSCAPE TEAM:
Ken Larsson, Principal in Charge
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Landscape Architect
Bryce Gauthier, Project Landscape Architect
Lisa Butler, Design and Technical Support
Oren Mizrahi, Design and Technical Support
Mike Enns, Landscape Architect, Phase One Site Coordination
Brett Hitchins, Phase One Technical Support

CONSULTANT TEAM:
Architect: Perkins + Will Canada
Mechanical/Electrical: Cobalt
Structural: Fast and Epp
Acoustics: BKL
Civil: RJ Binnie & Associates
Ecology: Raincoast
Building Envelope: Morrison Hershfield
Building Code: Barry Thoreson
Cost Consultant: BTY

Client/Owner
Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation
VanDusen Botanical Garden

CONTRACTOR/SUPPLIERS:
Construction Management: Ledcor
Roofing Contractor: Metro Roofing
Membrane Supplier: Soprema
Green Roof System: Zinco
Green Roof Landscape Installation: Houston Landscapes
Site Landscape Installation: Moscone Brothers
Wood and Wood Furnishings: StructureCraft

PHOTOGRAPHY:
N. Lehoux
B. Hitchins
K. Larsson

AWARDS
2013 International Green Roof Association, Green Roof Leadership Award
2012 Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Merit Award

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Published on September 17, 2014
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