VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre

VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre

Vancouver, British Columbia
A Public Expression of Sustainability

When visitorship to the VanDusen Botanical Garden began to decline in the early 2000’s, the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association and the Vancouver Parks Board embarked on a search for a way to revitalize interest in VanDusen as a destination. They realized that a new facility was needed – one that could attract visitors locally while elevating the garden’s profile internationally.

Our design places the new Visitor Centre at the entrance to the Garden, providing glimpses of the beautiful spaces within and transforming it into a gateway that inspires visitors and passersby to explore the grounds beyond. Guided by the Garden’s mandate and spirit of conservation, our design delicately balances architecture and landscape, integrating natural and human systems in meaningful ways to support biodiversity and ecological balance within the site. With its distinct organic roof form and extensive green building strategies, the Visitor Centre is more than a landmark in the city of Vancouver; it is an international icon of sustainability.

Sustainability Strategies
Balancing Architecture and Landscape

The Visitor Centre uses on-site, renewable sources—geothermal boreholes, solar photovoltaics, solar hot water tubes—to target net-zero energy on an annual basis. Rainwater is filtered and used for the building’s greywater requirements; 100% of blackwater is treated by an on-site bioreactor and released into a new feature percolation field and garden.

Solar Chimney
Natural ventilation is assisted by a solar chimney, composed of an operable glazed oculus and an aluminum heatsink, which converts the sun’s rays to convection energy. Summer sun shines on darker surfaces to enhance ventilation further. Located in the centre of the atrium, and exactly at the centre of all the building’s various radiating geometry, the solar chimney highlights the role of sustainability by form and function.
Wood, Naturally
Providing a beautiful and warm environment—and sequestering enough carbon to achieve carbon neutrality—the Visitor Centre uses wood products extensively, from the panelized roof structure to the cladding, furnishings, millwork and wall finishes.
Flower as Metaphor

A flower is rooted in its own place by harvesting all its own energy and water, by adapting to the climate and site, by operating pollution free, and by promoting health and well-being.

Karl Blossfeldt's Photo of the Leaf of a Native White Orchid
The goal of creating a symbiotic building was tangible, and even fated, early in the design process when both the design architect and landscape architect attended a preliminary design meeting carrying the same book: Karl Blossfeldts’ “The Alphabet of Plants”.
Design Inspiration
Organic Structure

Inspired by the organic forms and natural systems of a native orchid, the project is organized into undulating green roof ‘petals’ that float above rammed earth walls.
This concept extended beyond form, helping us answer many of the challenges that arose; throughout the design process, we often wondered: “How would a flower (orchid) do it?”

Concept sketch of VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre
Imagining VanDusen
Concept sketch of VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre exploring the roof form and solar chimney.
Structural Approach
Constructing the Complex Geometry of a Curved Roof

Various 3D modeling programs were used to create the base geometry of the roof, using parametric techniques to optimize the curvature and layout. This model was then used by the structural engineers to arrive at the structural design, and passed on to the fabricators to determine the most efficient way to panelize each segment. The final structure utilizes a glued laminated timber (or ‘glulam’) post-and-beam assembly to support the complex curves at the edges of each panel.

Vandusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre
A Public Expression of Sustainability

Project Team

Peter Busby
Kathy Wardle
Max Richter