On the Boards: “Living Building” in Vancouver by Busby Perkins + Will

November 8, 2010

By Tim Newcomb

Caen Library
Image courtesy Busby Perkins & Will
Busby Perkins + Will is designing a 20,000-square-foot visitor center for the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver.


Image courtesy Busby Perkins & Will

Peter Busby gives us a video tour of Busby Perkins + Will's Vancouver headquarters.

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Spread over 55 acres and featuring more than 255,000 different types of plants, the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver offers the ideal setting for urban dwellers wanting to commune with nature. Fittingly, a new visitor center now under construction at the public garden incorporates elements intended to minimize the building’s impact on the environment.

The $22-million, 20,000-square-foot project was designed by the local firm Busby Perkins + Will in partnership with landscape designer Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. The building is designed to meet the strict criteria of both the Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum certification. The center will contain a 50-foot-tall atrium, café, lecture rooms, exhibition spaces, and guest services for the park.

Creating a building that has zero impact on the surrounding site—a Living Building Challenge requirement—is no easy feat, says Jim Huffman, associate principal at Busby Perkins + Will. The design team integrated a number of sustainable features, including natural ventilation, local materials, sustainably harvested wood, and a rainwater catchment system. The green roof will feature walls made of rammed earth. To power the building, the owner plans to purchase energy produced from nearby hydro plants.

Mary Butterfield, VanDusen’s campaign director, says she expects the new building will become a local icon. Originally, the botanical garden had planned to just freshen up an existing visitor center. “Our focus switched from a renovation to making a really sustainable, self-sufficient building, matching the ecology of the garden,” she says. Construction began in May and is slated to be finished by next April.

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