Brooklyn Botanic Garden Entry Building, Arch, and Steinberg Visitor Center
990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn
WEISS/MANFREDI, Architecture Research Office
With blue skies overhead and abundant sunshine, it was the perfect day to funnel from Brooklyn‘s clamorous urban streetscape into the transportative, protected landscapes of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. On this double-header Building of Day tour, Archtober-ites explored the threshold from the city grid into the meandering, arboreal pathways at the garden, as experienced in two new entrance pavilions designed by WEISS/MANFREDI and ARO.
The tour began at the northern entrance of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where WEISS/MANFREDI’s Steinberg Visitor Center pulls visitors in off of the busy Washington Avenue. Bound on one end by a gently curving glass wall that suggests the S-shape of the building, WEISS/MANFREDI’s visitor center at once announces itself as an architectural presence on the street, but also diminishes its imposition on the landscape in deference to the gardens that lay behind it. Guides Paul Duston-Munoz and Evelyn Rosado from WEISS/MANFREDI described this delicate balance between presence and deference that dictated the siting and form of the visitor center.
The building, which houses a ticket counter, visitor information services, gift shop, offices, and an event space, is clad in a glass curtain wall with an exterior glass trellis. As you walk through the space, natural light falls in a rhythmic pattern through the trellis, echoing the experience of light filtering through an arbor of trees.
The architects conceived of an S-shape for the building, emulating the existing meandering pathways of the gardens and allowing for a separation between the public entry portal in front and the event space in back. The event space—the largest two-walled room in New York—is encased by the trellised-glass curtain wall on one end, overlooking the Japanese Garden, opposite a wood-paneled wall, partially constructed from the three Gingko trees that had to be removed from the site.
The S-shape of the building also means that the entire structure would not be visible from any one vantage point, so as not to overwhelm the garden setting. Atop the visitor center, a green roof planted with tall, flowering grasses in varying heights and shades of green provides a harmonious bridge between the architectural threshold and the verdant landscape beyond.
On the southern end of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, ARO designed a new ticketing and bathroom facility to reactivate an underutilized access point to the gardens. Kai Pedersen of ARO, explained how the siting of the new pavilion was meant to act as both a barrier between the noisy intersection just beyond the garden, and as a welcoming invitation to the community to enter the gardens.
The slender brick building topped with a geometric zinc roof and a cantilevered awning is in dialogue with a historic Beaux-Arts archway entrance designed by McKim, Mead, & White from the 1920s, which ARO is in the process of restoring.
ARO’s new entrance building has bold architectural elements, while maintaining deference to both the botanic setting and the historic context. The new building uses brick patterning inspired by McKim, Mead, & White’s arch. Pedersen described the infrared film inserted into the layered glass that partially visible to the human eye, but clearly visible to birds, intended to protect avian visitors to the gardens.
The two new entryways to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden provided seamless transitions between the urban context and the calming respite of the diverse flora housed in the gardens.
Alex Tell is the committee’s coordinator for the AIANY | Center for Architecture.