What could be a more fitting setting for green design than a botanical garden? Or, in the case of New York City, two gardens that went for the gold -- and platinum -- standards by going green from the roof down.
In September 2007, the Queens Botanical Garden opened its long awaited Visitor and Administration Center. The $12 million 15,831 square foot building was designed to be a uniquely immersive educational experience. Hailed as the "greenest" building in New York City at the time, the building served as a concrete realization of the city's PlaNYC 2030.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center entrance.
(Source: Elijah Porter)
According to the garden's website, the objective was for the building to function "as a veritable encyclopedia of building techniques that conserve water, tap renewable energy, and work with nature to mitigate global warming." Its sustainable features include the following:
- Water is preserved through two systems, one that captures rainwater, and one that recycles "graywater" from drains to supply the visitor's toilets after passing through a cleansing biotope.
- Staff toilets are of the compost variety, which use only three ounces of water.
- Precisely placed wooden slats over the windows (brise-soleil) reduce heat in the summer while still allowing access to the sun's warmth in during the colder months.
- The wood used is of the sustainable variety. Most other building materials are recycled and locally sourced.
- A geothermal heating and cooling system uses 55-degree water pumped from an aquifer to maintain the building's climate.
- The green roof is made up of living plants to cut down on heat and water run-off.
More detailed information about each of the features is available on touch panels in the building and online here.
Queens: local wood.
(Source: Ariella Brown)
The Queens Botanical Garden Visitor and Administration Center's environmentally advanced design made it the first New York City public building to earn platinum certification under the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), as well as a slew of other design awards.
While the Queens Botanical Garden building attained platinum status, Brooklyn Botanic Garden went for the gold with a 20,000-plus square feet $28 million visitor center. It opened two years ago in May. Like its counterpart, it was intended to serve as an instructive example. NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin declared, "This dynamic new Visitor Center will teach audiences about horticulture through cutting-edge, green infrastructure."
In 2013 the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Visitor Center was awarded platinum rating by the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. It also won an impressive number of additional awards. Some of the green features duplicate the ones found in the Queens building, but not all of them.
Green roof in Brooklyn.
(Source: Ariella Brown)
The most noticeable similarity between the two buildings' designs is the geothermal system and green roof. The newer building focuses on the roof, making it highly visible, with a distinctive shape that extends over 10,000 square feet, where over 40,000 plants grow. The building's curved walls are made up of uninterrupted windows, which endows it with a more graceful appearance than the than the somewhat boxy-looking Queens building.
Instead of adding on wooden slats to mitigate heat from the windows, the Brooklyn building's designers opted for high-performing fritted glass on the south wall, a feature that also discourages birds from flying at the glass, but without obstructing the view. While the Brooklyn Botanic Garden also collects rainwater, it doesn't claim a system of recycling "graywater." It also doesn't mention using solar panels to generate electricity.
Perhaps the designers felt it worthwhile to skip over some green features for the sake of aesthetics. The building is designed to look beautiful enough to serve as an attractive venue for weddings. In fact, on the day I visited it this spring, there was a wedding party there.
Though the Queens center may still hold the distinction of being the first and the greenest of the buildings in New York City, Brooklyn's equivalent is still an architectural achievement that shows that you can build both sustainably and beautifully. That's a very good model to follow.