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Thread: Botanical Garden Visitor Center

  1. #1

    Default Botanical Garden Visitor Center

    April 24, 2004

    Seeing the Garden From the Trees


    Work continues on the visitor center at the New York Botanical Garden, where the new main gate, lower left, will open next Saturday. The garden in the Bronx is protecting the historic trees during the project.

    They were absolutely forbidden to chop down the trees. So they had to build around them.

    That's because these trees are living museum exhibits, part of the country's largest collection of historic conifers. But the century-old pines, spruces and firs occupied the same rolling Bronx landscape where the New York Botanical Garden planned to construct a grand gateway for visitors to its 250 acres.

    "We aren't about the buildings, we're about the landscape,'' said Gregory Long, president of the garden. Therefore the solution was to cherish the trees and carefully situate a series of asymmetrical, low, minimalist buildings on an irregular three-and-a-half acre site that would frame sweeping views of the famous conifers without harming them - or obscuring them.

    Next Saturday, after years of planning and construction, this new $21 million main entrance will open, surrounding an outdoor plaza and a reflecting pool. There is to be a new cafe, a bookstore, a garden shop, a ticket desk, rest rooms and an orientation center.

    Gov. George E. Pataki said in an interview this week that the new complex, called the Leon Levy Visitor Center, "will allow people to have a better orientation to the garden.'' (Mr. Pataki and his wife, Libby, have been frequent visitors to the garden for years.)

    The structures were designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. As he inspected the construction site on a recent afternoon, Hugh Hardy, the architectural firm's founding partner, said the new entrance "will act as a buffer from the streetscape to the idyllic green space of the garden.''

    Not since the 1890's has the botanical garden witnessed such a ferment of construction, Mr. Long said. The institution is hurtling toward the close of a 14-year, $500 million program of restoration and development scheduled to be completed in 2007, the largest and most costly redevelopment ever mounted by a botanical garden, he said.

    The garden had more than 600,000 visitors in 2003, and attendance has been up by 30 percent over the last seven years since the restored Enid A. Haupt Conservatory reopened. Increasingly the mile-long garden, a national historic landmark, is expected to fulfill multiple roles as a tourist magnet, an educational resource, a research center, a neighborhood park and a library open to the public.

    To Mr. Long, the institution's 48 gardens and living plant collections - including its celebrated 50-acre forest containing the last remaining stand of native oaks, maples and hemlocks in New York City, some of them more than 300 years old - are "a public museum without a roof.''

    In 2002, the garden completed a $100 million reconstruction of its Beaux-Arts library building and the opening of its International Plant Science Center, housing the garden's 775,000-item library collection and its 6.5 million plant specimens in an extension designed by the firm of Polshek Partnership Architects.

    During the next three years, the garden hopes to complete a number of major building, landscaping and infrastructure projects, including the multimillion-dollar restoration of the conifer collection, to be formally named the Arthur and Janet Ross Conifer Arboretum on Thursday.

    It is the new visitor center, however, that is likely to make the greatest impact on garden-goers, who have been amenity-challenged at the current entrance, Conservatory Gate. The majority of its $21 million cost, about $11 million, was allocated by the state, principally the Empire State Development Corporation; the remaining $10 million came from private donations.

    "One hundred years ago some foresighted New Yorkers created the garden, and we have an obligation to build on what others did,'' Mr. Pataki said. "Now, with the renovation of the conservatory and the opening of the visitor center, we are doing our part for future generations.''

    But all this regeneration is occurring at a time when the amount of support that the garden receives from New York City for its operating budget of $41 million in 2004 is down by 18 percent since the Sept. 11 terror attack of the World Trade Center in 2001. And since then the garden's full-time staff of 440 is 8 percent smaller because of attrition and layoffs.

    The Bronx borough president, Adolfo Carrión Jr., said he has fought for increased operational financing for the garden and other Bronx institutions. But for now at the garden, he said, the visitor center "is the best investment that could be made, to ensure that this is a more user-friendly place.'' Mr. Carrión added that the shops and new cafe "will encourage tourists to linger longer, so they just don't parachute in."

    But plans for visitor buildings at Conservatory Gate conflicted with the arboretum, the garden's 40-acre forest of 250 venerable trees. The collection includes a rare century-old Himalayan white pine and other heirlooms called specimen trees, some of which, according to Dr. Kim Tripp, senior vice president for horticulture at the garden, "are endangered in their natural habitats.''

    Given their place in the conifer arboretum, the visitor-center buildings "had to be unobtrusive, an extension of the landscape,'' Mr. Hardy said.

    The original classic Edwardian structures of the 113-year-old institution conform to the grand, elitist European tradition of garden architecture, said Mr. Hardy, who has helped plan the garden's redevelopment since 1989.

    But instead of competing with such garden palaces, Mr. Hardy and his firm sought invisibility by using glass, steel and stone. The four visitors' structures have signature, skylighted gull-winged roofs of Western red cedar that mimic the sloping hills of the property.

    During some of his construction visits, Mr. Hardy supervised six masons as they worked with bluestone from the Helderberg Mountains south of Albany, creating rustic walls "that look like they have always been here,'' he said.

    Within the buildings' low stone walls is a surprisingly large total of enclosed space: 27,500 square feet. The pavilions' siting was "especially challenging," Dr. Tripp said, "because the roots of mature trees go out 20 or 30 feet, and you can't monkey around with the roots of century-old conifers.'' So Mr. Hardy's firm used a computer mapping system to make sure that construction would not disturb tree roots.

    In addition to offering "all the hardware of arrival,'' as Mr. Hardy put it, the visitor buildings will have an orientation center since patrons "have long had the need for more information here,'' he said. The ticketing desk will admit adults for $6, and children for $3. (Admission is free on Saturdays until noon and all day Wednesdays.)

    And the 450-foot-long path between the visitor buildings and the arboretum is also made of bluestone: a new promenade that matches existing 1890's paving elsewhere in the garden. "Stone," Mr. Long said, "of the kind that formed the sidewalks of New York.''

    But even that new walkway is an adaptive disguise, since it happens to be installed over the Croton Reservoir pipeline, which had to be reconstructed before the stone could be newly placed. "We've made sure,'' Mr. Long said, "that the bluestone can be removed some time in the great unspecified future.''

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

    Hugh Hardy states, “The Leon Levy Visitor Center represents a fusion of architecture and landscape that uses stone, steel, and glass to create a new, simply stated environment. It is public architecture that is free of associations with wealth and privilege, instead defining a place of discovery and delight for all the diverse populations of New York and beyond.”

    Press Release

  2. #2


    Photos in 2-3 weeks.

  3. #3


    I look forward to seeing them.

  4. #4


    Contract Magazine


    Visitor Center

    More NYBG

    The Tanyosho (Umbrella) Pines, just outside the Visitor Center, are examples notable specimens that had to be protected from construction activity.

    The 10 acre Ornamental Conifer Collection has been closed for renovation for about three years, but will open this fall. I got a shot of the new entrance.

    In the southern end of the garden, the Nolen Glasshouses are one year from completion.

  5. #5
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village


    Pretty impressive Visitor's Center, there's a lot going on there. Looks like they spent some time and money on good materials, and they keep the grounds well manicured, a nice job. Thanks for the photos Zippy, they are outstanding as usual.

  6. #6


    Yeah, thanks. I don't know if "democratic" lack of ostentation meant it had to be quasi-furtive architecture, but it looks quite refined and nice. A bit too seemly though.

    Cacti are cute.

  7. #7


    I suppose they were obsessed with not having the facility intrude on the landscape, but I think this would have also been the case with something more definitive. Once you move off the central axis, the buildings disappear. I prefer the visitor center/magnolia plaza at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

    However, it's a much-needed addition, and the workmanship is first rate.

    Cacti are easy to photograph, as opposed to the Tropical Rain Forest, which wreaks havoc on my camera. When I asked the staff if they could turn down the mist and humidity, they just stared at me. :P

  8. #8


    No notion of service. Did you actually have the nerve to make that joke?

    They resemble blocks of ice. Did you take a closer look at the rendering?

  9. #9


    I was standing at the edge of a construction ditch and couldn't get any closer, but that's exactly what it looks like. This press release[/quote]describes it as a back-office, not generally open to the public.

    Yes, I actually said that, but I couldn't hold a straight face waiting for an answer.

    I don't know how this arm of the building doesn't just rot away.

  10. #10


    May 14, 2004

    Deal on Radio Tower Reached


    Ending a decade-long conflict, Fordham University announced plans yesterday to tear down a radio tower that has marred views from the New York Botanical Garden and build a new antenna on top of a residential building much farther away.

    If approved by New York City and the Federal Communications Commission, the project would almost double the reach of the university's commercial-free radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7), to listeners in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

    The university would share the cost of the $2 million to $3 million project with the botanical garden and Montefiore Medical Center, which owns the building where the 142-foot antenna would be built, in the Norwood section of the Bronx, officials of all three institutions announced at a joint news conference at the hospital yesterday.

    "If you looked at this problem a few years ago, it seemed insurmountable," said Adolfo Carrión Jr., the Bronx borough president, who also spoke at the news conference. "A lot of people said we couldn't do it."

    The university hopes to have the new antenna operating in a year, but must first get approval from the city's Board of Standards and Appeals, which makes zoning decision and is expected to hold a public hearing. Fordham would also need a construction permit from the F.C.C. to build the new antenna.

    The controversy began in 1994, when the university started erecting what was intended to be a 480-foot radio tower on its Rose Hill campus along Southern Boulevard, across the street from the botanical garden. The tower had reached 260 feet when the city halted construction that same year and ordered it redesigned or moved back amid growing complaints from the botanical garden's visitors and officials. The university had spent $1 million on the tower.

    Fordham has since alternately fought in court to keep the tower and looked for other locations, to no avail. All the while, WFUV's signal has been broadcast from the half-built tower, which has limited the station's reach around the boroughs and beyond. In 1998, the F.C.C. recommended that the garden and the university mediate to find a solution.

    In the fall of 2002, Montefiore stepped in and offered to lease the roof of a 28-story residential building for hospital staff at 3450 Wayne Avenue, south of Woodlawn Cemetery. The building sits in one of the city's highest areas, one and a half miles northwest of the current radio tower. The new antenna might still be visible from the garden but would be farther away, said Karl Lauby, a spokesman for the garden.

    If the plan is approved, the university will pay Montefiore $100,000 a year in rent, which the hospital said it would use largely to cover routine costs, like security and repairs, said Dr. Spencer Foreman, president of the medical center.

    "We're not involved in this for any commercial reasons," Dr. Foreman said. "We literally stood in to solve a community problem for which there was no solution for more than a decade. We did it because we could."

    How the cost of the project would be shared has not been disclosed, but the garden would contribute to the costs of tearing the current radio tower down and to the initial rent payments. Fordham and Montefiore would both contribute to the cost of removing a cooling tower on the roof to make room for the antenna.

    The Rev. Joseph M. McShane, Fordham's president, said the new antenna would more than meet F.C.C. safety regulations, but some residents of 3450 Wayne Avenue said they wanted to know more about the antenna.

    "I don't know what the adverse effects are of a radio tower," said Dr. Carlos Timaran, a fellow in vascular surgery at the hospital.

    With the new antenna, WFUV would be able to reach about 13 million people throughout the boroughs, and in parts of Connecticut and New Jersey. Currently, the station's signal can only reach 6.8 million people, and in only parts of the five boroughs and the other states, university officials said.

    "Everyone feels great relief and both sides are deeply grateful to Dr. Foreman," said Father McShane. "Today is a great day for us."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  11. #11


    And I was going to nuke that photo. :P

  12. #12


    Because of the unsightly tower, ironically?

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  14. #14


    Where are these places actually? I am from Asia, and will actually move in New York in about 2 weeks time.. Just looking around, and I saw this forums.. Noticed that there were a couple of great posts, and stumbled seeing these pictures..

  15. #15
    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    East Midtown


    Hello Daniella, and welcome to the forum. Welcome to New York! You'll find everything you need to know about New York on this site.

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