Project Info

Architect: Perkins+Will
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Completion: August 2011
Project Budget: $21.9 million CAD
Construction Budget: $14.4 million CAD
Project Area: 17,000 SM (183,000 SF)
Building Area: 1,765 SM (19,000 SF)
Sustainability Targets: Living Building Challenge LEED® New Construction v 1.0 Platinum Registered Visitor Centre


Perkins+Will‘s VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre in Vancouver, BC is designed to meet the Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous set of requirements of sustainability.  Formally and functionally, it encompasses the goals of environmentally and socially conscious design.  The building is an undulating landscape of interior and exterior spaces rising from ground to roof level and providing a vast surface area on which vegetation could grow, thus reoccupying the land on which the building sits with the landscape.  The building also features numerous passive and active systems that reuse the site’s renewable resources and the building’s own waste.


The form of the Visitor Centre finds a balance between architecture and landscape – composed of “undulating green roof ‘petals’ that float above rammed earth and concrete walls”, inspired by a native orchid.  The roof and ground plane are connected by ramps that promote vegetation – a self-made green roof.  The building functions as a community oriented center for the Botanical Garden; it has a cafe, library, volunteer facilities, garden shop, offices, and classroom space for meetings, workshops, lectures and private functions.
In order to achieve recognition for the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, Perkins+Will had to use natural and mechanical systems that could collaborate to create a building with a low impact on the environment that includes the its immediate site and the infrastructure to which it is connected.  This means that all systems were taken into account when designing this facility.
The Visitor Centre uses on-site, renewable sources, such as geothermal boreholes, solar photovoltaics and solar hot water tubes, in order to achieve net-zero energy on an annual basis.  The building is primarily constructed out of wood with the roof constructed out of a glulam post-and-beam construction.  Rainwater is collected, filtered and used as greywater for the building.  The blackwater is treated by “an on-site bioreactor and released into a new feature percolation field and garden”.

The operable glazed oculus may be the most stunning and apparent feature that identifies the building.  It protrudes from the landscape created by the roof and produces an atrium space in the interior with a warm orange glow, reflected by the natural wood.  This oculus is not just a formal – and eye-catching – move.  It assists with natural ventilation; operating as a solar chimney. It also features an aluminum heat sink, which converts sunlight into convection energy, providing air movement through the space.  The darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight provide even more ventilation.
The considerations highlighted by Perkins+Will guided the design of form and function for the building are the following categories:
Sustainable Site: The building is situated to avoid destroying the rare trees, shrubs and plants around the garden.  The roof garden also replaces the vegetation displaced by the building itself and helps reintegrate vegetation into the architecture.
Water Efficiency: Rainwater is collected and reused, while greywater and blackwater are treated in an on-site facility.

Energy Efficiency: Solar hot water tubes are designed to produce 176,000 kWh; PV panels are designed to produce 11,000 kWh and a geo-exchange system is also implemented to provide the energy necessary for the site to keep it at net-zero energy use.
Materials and Resources: Perkins+Will chose materials according to their health, carbon footprint, ability to be recycled and their individual life cycles to choose to most appropriate and long-lasting components.
Beauty and Inspiration: The building is designed not only to inspire a celebration of the Garden and landscape, but to invest and show consideration for the environment through building systems and promote a social understanding of the balance between human activities and natural ecosystems.