At a time when green roofs have become a cliché and landscape a term used to describe almost anything, how do you design a building for a botanic garden without looking like a wannabe? Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi'architects who have been fusing structure and site since they built the Women's Memorial and Education Center at Arlington National Cemetery in 1997'might not need to worry about jumping late on the green bandwagon, but in taking on the job of building a visitor center at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG), they faced the challenge of not repeating themselves.
Ironically, the answer for the husband-and-wife team began with an emphasis on the new building's urban character. In their first interview for the job, the architects told the client they wanted to move the proposed site from a leafy spot near the center of the 52-acre garden to one on the northeast side, facing a busy street. The original location placed the visitor center on axis with the garden's Cherry Walk, but Weiss and Manfredi argued that a building there might dominate the cherished esplanade of trees. It also would require visitors to walk along the edge of a large parking lot behind the Brooklyn Museum, BBG's Beaux-Arts neighbor to the north. Bringing the new building to the street would give it an urban presence, provide the chance for a graceful transition from city to nature, and protect the character of the garden itself. The argument immediately convinced the client's building committee, recalls Scot Medbury, president of BBG.