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North Carolina Botanical Garden Education Center

Frank Harmon Architect

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Frank Harmon

Project Status


Year Completed


Certifications and Designations

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Project Description

Problem Statement

The North Carolina Botanical Garden at UNC-Chapel Hill is committed to excellence in research, university instruction, conservation, plant collections, and public programs. The Education Center provides a gateway into the Botanical Garden, helping visitors focus their attention by creating a sense of place and continuity of experience. The building’s green architecture exemplifies a positive union between natural and built environments and serves as a model of sustainable design for the university and the State of North Carolina.

Our Design Response

Fundamental to our design concept was active participation by all stakeholders in the project: staff, visitors, faculty, Foundation and neighbors. We facilitated 24 design workshops, drawing on the energy and knowledge of all constituents to create the building and landscape design.

Our design creates a cluster, or “family,” of eco-friendly buildings, gently composed on a wooded hillside. Together, the buildings serve as a gateway to the Botanical Garden, allowing visitors to flow through the breezeways to the gardens behind the Center and on to the trails and adjacent creek.

The “Flow of Ideas Exhibit” and Information Hall comprise the center section, along with a gift shop, library, and an area for plant sales. The Reeves Auditorium is located in the western wing. The eastern wing houses classrooms and offices.

The broad parking lot’s porous paving avoids any storm water run-off and provides access from Old Mason Farm Road to the Center. New gardens, to be developed over the coming two years, will create expanded outdoor spaces.

All systems and materials in the Education Center were designed to minimize environmental impact and support human health. Green technologies include photovoltaic panels, above- and below-ground rainwater cisterns, bio-retention ponds, geothermal heating and cooling, natural lighting and ventilation, and low-flow plumbing. Construction materials were obtained from within a 500-mile radius, including lumber milled from the site and from trees in the Dismal Swamp felled by Hurricane Fran. Recycled components include steel beams made out of scrap metal from automobiles.

Embracing all the principles of sustainable design, the NC Botanical Garden’s Education Center is the State of North Carolina’s first LEED-Platinum certified building.
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