Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden is considered young compared to its counterparts in other cities—from 1911 to 1960, the 55-acre property was home to a golf club. The site was then considered for commercial development until the neighbors objected and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association helped save the property for use as a botanic garden. The gardens opened in 1975; in 2011, Peter Busby, Intl. Assoc. AIA, and his colleagues at Perkins+Will reinvigorated the property with a new $14.4 million (CAD) visitor center.

Located on the southeastern corner of the property, the 19,000-square-foot building was designed to target the VanDusen leadership’s interest in attaining both LEED Platinum certification and meeting the Living Building Challenge (LBC). One reason for the sustainable goals is that the mission of a botanic garden is conservation, explains garden director Harry Jongerden. As such, “the philosophy of the building and a botanic garden is the same,” he says.

To realize this vision, Busby designed an organically shaped, dramatic single-story structure that introduces visitors to the naturalistically planted grounds. Curving rammed-earth walls beneath an undulating roof lead visitors from multiple entries through to a central, circular atrium. From this single point under a contemporary oculus, one can step out into the garden or access the building’s amenities, which include a store, food services, and educational and rental spaces.

The building’s design draws on natural forms with nary a right angle in sight. The typical roof panel is 15 feet by 65 feet and curves along all three axes—with more than 50 different panels needed to enclose the building. They were first drawn by Perkins+Will using Rhino, then transferred to Revit for working drawings and fabrication. The panels were prefabricated, incorporating everything—structure, sheathing, roofing membrane, as well as rough-ins for fire protection and electrical services. “It’s tricky to bend sprinkler lines,” says Ledcor Construction project manager Rebecca McDiarmid. “We used BIM to sort out the conflicts. There would have been a number of spectacular ‘oops’ if we hadn’t.” The undulating roof required a steel connection detail that would accommodate the many different angles with which the roof panels meet the structural members. “We developed a standard that works with any curve,” Busby says. Construction of the relatively small, single-story building required the use of Vancouver’s largest crane in order to place the roof panels without disturbing the towering trees that surround the building.

The LBC is just that—a challenge. McDiarmid recalls how the hundreds of linear feet of drain tile required for the building had to be produced by hand drilling thousands of holes in high-density polyethylene pipe—a substitute for the LBC-banned PVC. “That’s the kind of thing LBC does to you,” Busby says. “It can drive you crazy.” Other materials were difficult as well. “Subcontractors would pull their LEED files on materials,” McDiarmid says, “but that’s not enough.” It was teamwork that made it happen. “The subs really got on board,” Perkins+Will associate principal Jim Huffman says. “The Living Building Challenge is less flexible than LEED. It’s all or nothing.” Silicone was substituted for neoprene in several assemblies to meet challenge requirements, knowledge that was transferred between subcontractors on the project.

VanDusen achieves net-zero energy through a variety of techniques including solar hot water, photovoltaic panels, and geothermal boreholes. Its net-zero water system makes it the first building in more than 45 years in Vancouver to treat blackwater on site, though the city required both water and sewer systems to be connected to the city service. A similar strategy is used at the Perkins+Will-designed Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia but that building is in a different jurisdiction.

At the north end of the building, mostly hidden from view, is the portion of the building that houses the mechanical room. Here, the roof comes down to grade, serving several useful purposes. It hides the blackwater piping that exits the building to a percolation field. “And it allows critters to get onto the green roof,” Busby says. “It promotes biodiversity. It’s about man and nature coming together.” That’s a theme that remains central to the mission of both the garden and Busby’s work.

Project Credits

Project  VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Client  Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation
Architect  Perkins+Will, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada—Peter Busby, Intl. Assoc. AIA (managing director); Robert Drew, Jim Huffman (associate principals); Penny Martyn (senior architect); Aneta Chmiel, Robin Glover, Max Richter (architects); Paul Cowcher, Harley Grusko (intern architects); Chessa Adsit-Morris (sustainability building adviser); Jacqueline Ho, Matthieu Lemay (junior architectural staff); Benjamin Engle-Folchert (model shop manager); Ellen Lee (model maker); Sören Schou (industrial designer)
Structural Engineer  Fast + Epp
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer  Cobalt Engineering
Civil Engineer  R.F. Binnie & Associates
Cost Consultants  BTY Group; B.R. Thorson
Envelope Consultant  Morrison Herschfield
Acoustic Consultant  BKL Consultants
Landscape Architect  Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture with Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
Commissioning Agent  KD Engineering
Lighting Design  Total Lighting Solutions
General Contractor  Ledcor Construction
Ecology Consultant  Raincoast Applied Ecology
Size  19,000 square feet
Cost  $14.4 million (CAD)

Materials and Sources

Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants  Bohle adhesives
Carpet  Bentley Prince Street
Concrete  Ocean Concrete Supplies
Exterior Wall Systems  Whitewater Shotcrete; Sirewall (rammed-earth walls)
Flooring  Retroplate System by Advanced Floor Products
Glass  PPG Industries
Insulation  BASF (Walltite Eco)
Lighting-Control Systems  Douglas Lighting Controls
Lighting  Selux; Alights; Philips Ledalite
Millwork  Pacific Woodworking
Photovoltaics or Other Renewables  Sunda Solar Tubes; Eco Fluid Systems (bioreactor wastewater systems); Sharp (solar panels)
Roofing  Soprema; Zinco Canada
Structural System  Clearbrook Iron Works
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors  Columbia Skylights

More about Philips Lighting
Find products, contact information and articles about Philips Lighting