Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center Opens to the Public

A deeply embedded building which fits it s site and use  from and innovative pair of architects who see buildings, landscapes and infrastructure as serving people via arch daily

© Albert Vecerka/Esto

Accompanied by Mayor Bloomberg yesterday in an early morning ribbon cutting, New York City-based practice Weiss/Manfredi celebrated the grand opening of the new Botanic Garden Visitor Center. Embedded into an existing hillside at the Garden’s northeast corner, the sinuous glass building appears as a seamless extension to the existing topography as it leads into the 52-acre garden. In addition, the $28-million Visitor Center incorporates numerous environmentally sustainable features—most notably a 10,000-square-foot living roof—that are aimed toward earning LEED Gold certification. The project has been recognized by the New York City Public Design Commission with an Award for Excellence in Design.

Continue reading after the break for the architects’ description.


© Albert Vecerka/Esto

The 20,000-square-foot Visitor Center was conceived as a new threshold between the city and Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBC) that transitions from an architectural presence at the street to a structured landscape within the Garden. The Visitor Center invites visitors from Washington Avenue into the Garden via a curved glass trellis before opening into major garden precincts like the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden and Cherry Esplanade.

© Albert Vecerka/Esto

The primary entry from Washington Avenue is visible from the street; an additional entry from the elevated Overlook and Ginkgo Allée at the top of the berm bisects the Visitor Center, revealing framed views of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and descends through a stepped ramp to the main level of the Garden.

© Albert Vecerka/Esto

The curved glass walls of the Visitor Center offer veiled views into the Garden, their fritted glass filtering light and deterring bird strikes. In contrast to the southern face of the building, the north side is built into a preexisting berm, which increases thermal efficiency. Its clerestory glazing—along with the fritted glass on the south walls— minimizes heat gain and maximizes natural illumination. A geoexchange system heats and cools the interior spaces, and a series of rain gardens collect and filter runoff to improve storm-water management.

© Albert Vecerka/Esto

The leaf-shaped living roof hosts over 40,000 plants—grasses, spring bulbs, and perennial wildflowers—adding a new experimental landscape to the Garden’s collection.

© Albert Vecerka/Esto

The green roof will change throughout the year, literally transforming the nature of the architecture each season. The Washington Avenue side of the building features a pleated copper roof that echoes the Garden’s landmarked 1917 McKim, Mead & White Administration Building and will ultimately weather to green.

Nearly 60,000 plants were installed around the Visitor Center, including cherry, magnolia, and tupelo trees; viburnums; native roses; and three rain gardens full of water-loving plants. In combination with the green roof, this ambitious installation seamlessly weaves the Visitor Center into the green tapestry of the Garden.

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Q&A: Finn Butler on wayfinding design

Investing in evidence based design is far from common –  retail business’ mantra that “the customer is always right” is not yet firmly entrenched in the design professions way of thinking – yet – but I am sure its coming – here is an interview with a firm that believes firmly in following the evidence to promote ease of way-finding in notoriously difficult to negotiate environments – from smart planet By 

MELBOURNE – At SmartPlanet, we’ve written about wayfinding from all different angles; as environmental graphic design, operating system, cognitive map and even as an iPhone app. But as a professional practice, it’s still relatively unknown and arguably undervalued.

Pioneering wayfinding as a new discipline is Finn Butler, a specialist with over 20 years of international experience in designing for complex built environments.

Since joining the Melbourne design studio Buro North in 2008, Butler has executed strategies for some of Australia’s most public projects including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre and Westfield in Sydney.

Butler’s early career focused on transport wayfinding systems for Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, Delhi Metro in India, and the U.K.’s major rail stations.

We recently caught up with Finn Butler to discuss wayfinding semantics — what it is, why it’s important and where it’s headed as an industry.

Wayfinding expert Finn Butler

SmartPlanet: Where did the term ‘wayfinding’ come from?

Finn Butler: I think Kevin Lynch first used the phrase wayfinding in his book Image of the City to describe the process of designing and organising space to facilitate navigation, so in its modern sense the term has been around for about 50 years. As a design discipline, wayfinding is still in its infancy and is still evolving.

SP: Is there an agreed definition?

FB: Many practitioners describe wayfinding design in terms of the navigation of physical space with a strong focus on signage. I personally believe that wayfinding design is the design of navigational behaviour and not signage, which often combines the navigation of physical space as well as processes. This requires the consideration of a broad range of measures, including the development of operational processes, environmental changes and staff training as well as information delivery in the form of signage.

This approach differs from a purely graphic or signage response, as it requires an understanding of fields and ideas that usually exist outside the design field, such as semiotics, affordance and syntax modelling.

Quite often the best wayfinding strategists come from operational backgrounds or from the sciences rather than from a design background

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Singapore Is On Its Way To Becoming An Iconic Smart City

Often slated for its extreme Disneyfication, see Examining Rem Koolhaas’ prologue to Singapore Songlines, Singapore is determined to become the flagship sustainable city, with is green water systems and urban parks and massive investment in green infrastructure and renewable energy , but despite the high level of government backing and initiatives – all is not as good as it could be…From Co.EXIST  WRITTEN BY: 

You might think of it more for its stringent penal code, but the Asian city is fast becoming one of the most forward thinking in the region.

This past week I had the pleasure of being invited to Singapore to present my research on smart, innovative cities. Tropical greenspaces throughout the city are juxtaposed with remnants of its past through an authentic China Town, Little India and others–all of which mixes with a modern, robust, waterside financial district, as well as upscale, North-American-style malls and entertainment districts. That’s a lot for a small island with about 5 million inhabitants.

For those of us interested in smart city evolution, Singapore is a fascinating place to explore. I was lucky enough to have Andreas Birnik, the former director of smart cities for Ericsson and current adjunct professor of sustainability at the National University of Singapore, as a guide.

Nearly 90% of the Singaporean population owns their own home or apartment. The underlying principal here is that social housing will only succeed when the tenants have an incentive, and an equity in their buildings and homes. This may be one of the reasons, along with very punitive criminal laws, that Singapore has such an incredibly low crime rate.

While Singapore has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world, the politicians are doing their best to keep vehicle ownership rates (and subsequently traffic and new road infrastructure) as low as possible. Singapore has an auction system just to obtain the rights to purchase a car. Depending on the type of vehicle, auctions this past year have run between $50,000 and $75,000. On top of that, the government imposes massive taxes (100% or more) on the purchase of vehicles.

On top of all this, Singapore has implemented electronic road pricing (ERP)–a set of automated tolls throughout the city which vary depending on the hour in an attempt to incentivize off-peak travel over peak time.

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How Motherhood Changes the Brain

If you wonder what motherhood has to do with  cities, then think – well where did you come from and how happy were you with your childhood/family experience – many didn’t have one! I think understanding more of what makes people happy , sad, successful, adapted, creative etc is essential knowledge for anyone who intends to cater fro peoples needs within the urban or any other environment. From my health news via! Urban Life

Chocolate treats and sentimental cards may sweeten mom’s belly and heart this Mother’s Day, but it turns out motherhood also goes right to the noggin, with plenty of research showing how having kids, and even the process of childbirth, can change a mama’s brain.

Recent research has revealed some of the changes that take place in women’s brains during motherhood, and experts say that understanding how a mom’s brain works could help them figure out what motivates moms to care for their babies.

“With this research, we hope to better understand how to support moms who don’t naturally experience a brain reward response when they interact with their baby,” said Dr. Lane Strathearn, a developmental pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

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About time someone thought of people in cities – isn’t that what we’re all trying to do anyway – still a nice perspective on viewing cities from a user centric perspective

adventures on the edge of business and engineering

What is a user-friendly city? We say that the iPhone is user-friendly, but what about Washington, D.C. or Madrid? The concept of designing from a user-centric perspective is common in the creation of web and mobile applications. There is a whole field of User Experience (UX) designers who take a holistic approach to optimizing the “system of systems” that make a product. A major focus of my company is helping people navigate unfamiliar indoor spaces, so I look at the world through this lens all the time. But who does user experience design for our cities? For whom are we designing? And even if an amazing design is created, how does it get implemented amidst the dynamic cultural, political, and economic flows of a city?

There are increasingly-many similarities between web and mobile applications and cities. Both often start as small endeavors, experiments cobbled together out of necessity…

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Pedestrians x Urban Development vs BRT X Cars

Isn’t this the truth all planners and urban designers are hiding from  – we are in love with our cars and the motor industry is doing everything in its power to sell more – Europe’s fate depends on it – Isn’t that what makes Germany able to pay for all its poor lazy cousins in the South? Cape Town’s much vaunted BRT system no doubt helps a bit of congestion – but at what astronomical price?


This is my debut on Urban Times and after thinking much about what kind of issues I would like to propose in this very first publication, I realized that nothing could express my future contribution here better than a ‘urbanist’ discussion involving pedestrians and urban development.

I’m Brazilian. I came from the “new world”, more exactly, from the “most developed city” in Brazil in terms of the quality of life. Curitiba is well known between architects and urbanists all around the world because of its supposedly innovative transportation system. This is nothing but a special bus lane, wherein bi-articulated buses circulate carrying almost 1 million passengers per day. These buses are powered by gasoline. They cross the city from its two principal axes: north-south and east-west. Commuters are formed mainly by workers and students that don’t have a driving license yet.

In Curitiba, there are no metro or trams. Electric vehicles are far from making an appearance on the streets and even bio-diesel, the ecological fuel produced in the country, is not filling up all the bus tanks (very few vehicles use this kind of gas). But this same proud city, which has already won many international prizes, including the Sustainable Transport Award 2010, from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), also holds the amazing record of having the biggest automobile fleet in Brazil. With a population of 1.7 million people, Curitiba has more than 1.2 million cars on the streets. That is, 0.71 cars for each citizen!

Curitiba transportation system (JoelRocha/SMCS)

This absurd statistic, based on more recent demographic numbers provided by IBGE (Brazilian institute of statistics), clearly shows how unsuccessful the transportation system is. But, in a country where a car represents a social status, this reality not only shows social problems but also exhibits an urban development dilemma where cars are more important than people and the urban areas are made to make circulation easy for motorized wheels. This model, I have to say, is responsible for the deserted streets that propitiates the rising of urban violence (no people on the street = perfect habitat for criminals).

Living in Paris since April, I sadly feel that Brazilians cities, Curitiba especially, are driving in reverse. While my hometown stimulates more and more people to have their own cars, and simply ignores the existence of the bicycles, what I see in Paris is a surprisingly good example of urban policies that are trying to put the automobiles away without risking city development. In this moment, two of the most important public projects will transform areas of the intense traffic into pleasant pedestrianised spaces.

The first one is taking place around the Place de la République, one of the most crucial circulation axes of the French capital, on the way to the north of the city. Until 2013, the area will be entirely rehabilitated to become a pedestrian’s paradise, free of cars. The second one will reconfigure the left bank of the Seine, bringing an even more expressive transformation. About 2.4 km of the lanes will be closed down to traffic and in its place will be constructed an sporting and leisure facility, including gardens and floating islands, where cultural events will entertain (more) the day-to-day life of Parisians.

A vision of the future bank (image source: REUTERS/Apur/JC Choblet)

So if I go back to my introductory proposition: does this old-fashioned habit of walking, increasing everyday here in Europe, makes life easier, or does it serves as a barrier on the development of emerging countries, such as Brazil?

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol & Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge Receive 2012 Tucker Design Award

Cathryn Gustafson who will be speaking at the IFLA World Congress in Cape Town in September wins another award:  From bustler

Seattle landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN), together with Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge (CSS) of Boston, are the recipients of the biennial Tucker Design Award for 2012. GGN and CSS have been recognized for North End Parks, the three-acre park that was part of the “Big Dig” development in Boston, MA.

First presented in 1977, the Tucker Design Award is a nationally recognized architectural design award in both the building and landscape industries. The award program honors those whose work demonstrates excellence in concept, design, construction and use of natural stone.

Boston's North End Parks designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge (Courtesy of GGN)

Boston’s North End Parks designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge (Courtesy of GGN)

“It is an honor for GGN and CSS to receive this award for work that was a joy for us to do. We fell in love with the North End neighborhood while designing the Parks, and I like to think that this emotion came through in the careful detailing of the stone” said Shannon Nichol, Director of GGN. “Our interest in the beautiful layers of hand-crafted materials in the nearby streets influenced the stone details in the Parks. The colorful, passionate personalities in the neighborhood also inspired our selection of dramatic, marble-like granite and the overall design for social interactions at every scale”.

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

North End Parks are built on the land of the I-93 tunnel roof, at the prime entry to one of Boston’s densest and most historic neighborhoods. The Parks are designed as a system of varied spaces that serve the finely scaled residential neighborhood, while forming together as one, a unified threshold piece at a grander civic scale.

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

This year’s juror’s for the Tucker Design Awards were Ripley Rasmus, Senior Vice President and Director of HOK St. Louis; Rae Price, FASLA, Peridian International, Newport Beach, CA; and Peter MacKeith, Associate Dean, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University St. Louis.

The 2012 awards are being presented today, May 11, in the Shoenberg Auditorium of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

Other distinguished projects receiving Tucker Design Awards in 2012 include: Nelson Byrd Woltz, Citygarden, St. Louis, MO; Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, The Center for the Advancement of Public Action, Bennington College, Bennington VT; HOLT Architects, P.C. Southworth Library, Lincoln Center Addition, Dryden, NY; Hartman-Cox Architects, LLP, Duke Divinity School Addition, Duke University, Durham, NC and others.

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

North End Parks (Courtesy of GGN)

This is the classic Catch-22 – cities are made and designed by people who studied the past (existing cities) to arrive at their planning methods etc. for people who are living now and in the future when the means of livelihood and lifestyle will have changed in ways which are unlikely if not impossible to foresee!

The issue of viewing space at varied scales – global to local, is very powerful for understanding how space is constructed in relation to the body.

Thinking culture


I’ve just returned to Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space, but this time I tried to look at its depiction of the body in social space. Focusing on this one aspect I was surprised to find just how central the body is in Lefebvre’s analysis. In fact quite early on Lefebvre is very clear that the body is central to his conception of the production of space.


What comes across in this reading of Lefebvre’s book is an affective account of space. The sensory body is central to spatial production. Although Lefebvre us clear that this sensory production of space can be usurped by powerful conceptions and representations of space. This leads him to talk of the ‘spatial body’ as a sits in which practices and representations of space implicate one another and shape bodily experience. This is quite a complex and recursive vision of the body and of its…

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With the intensity of urban migration in both upwardly mobile types and the urban poor – both looking for beer futures – maybe this old idea has found its time?


I am relocating and it is not to a neighbouring community or across to the other side of town but across the country. I am now knee deep in the daunting process of purging and packing. As well, I am trying to secure a new apartment and so far I haven’t found the ideal space. To further complicate my situation, I love my current apartment – its the right size, has a great lay out, super neighbours and to top it off I have a good size studio set up in the back garage. I would love to be able to pick up my apartment and studio and relocate it across the country.  It would make my life so much easier and it would be less stressful and in the sixties my idea of relocation was not as far fetched as it sounds.  Archigram, a collaboration of six British architects who…

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