Is the new Van Dusen Botanical Gardens visitors’ center “the greenest building in Vancouver,” as the headline on my new article on the place claims? That depends on how you slice it. Van Dusen’s architecture team, Perkins + Will, also designed the incredible CIRS Building across town at UBC, which goes a level or so beyond LEED Platinum.
But the new Van Dusen center is easily a contender for the title. It’s aiming for a Living Building certification from the International Living Building Institute, the most rigorous green-building standard in the world. To meet the spec, the place must address a truly daunting series of imperatives and prerequisites, including being mostly free of PVC plastic and a variety of other nasty chemical cocktails, making all its own energy, treating all its own wastewater, and more. (Read the standard here.)
Jim Huffman, associate principal for Busby, Perkins + Will, and Rebecca McDiarmid, project manager for Ledcor Construction (the builder)—showed me around the site late last summer. Here’s a snip from the article.
When the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association decided it was time for a new visitor centre, in 2000, the idea that the building should be the greenest in the city—one of the greenest in the country—did not even make it onto the whiteboard. They had enough to deal with just raising the facilities to the level of adequate. “The existing buildings were built in the 1970s,” explains John Ross, project manager for the Vancouver park board. “They were small, not very efficient, with single-glazed windows and not much insulation, so they were expensive to run.” There was also little on hand for families—mums and dads couldn’t even get a cup of soup for their kids on a rainy day—and the library and educational program facilities were inadequate.
The garden, on 22 city-owned hectares off Oak Street, is managed jointly by the nonprofit VanDusen garden association and the park board. An early design for a new visitor centre proved useful for fundraising purposes, and when the partners sent out an expression of interest for architects, Peter Busby was among the respondents. “They brought energy and enthusiasm,” recalls Ross of the Busby Perkins + Will presentation. “They were quite interested in green buildings. That was an aspect the committee hadn’t considered.”
All the more surprising, then, that the recently opened $21.9-million centre should turn out to be a green overachiever. Early on, Busby’s team decided LEED Platinum just wouldn’t cut it. Instead of merely shrinking the building’s footprint, they set out to build something revolutionary. The centre’s water-harvesting roof, which evokes a series of giant orchid petals, is crowned in part with a glittering array of solar-thermal tubes. (The building is broadly modelled after a flower.) Below, a gently curving rammed-earth wall—a massive and sensual structure that will likely endure for centuries—beckons visitors.
Read the rest of the article over at Vancouver magazine.