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Busby Perkins + Will leads design team for VanDusen Botanical Garden refurbishment project

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by Jean Sorensen

A long-awaited $20 million refurbishing of Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden has begun.

Green Design

Budget for first phase estimated at $6.5 million

A long-awaited $20 million refurbishing of Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden has begun.

Upgrades for the attraction, located at 37th and Oak, have started with Busby Perkins + Will, a B.C. architectural firm known for it’s green focus.

The firm was selected in December to lead the design team.

John Ross, Vancouver park board project manager for the city-owned garden site, said that the two-phase refurbishment is being undertaken because the activities and popularity of the gardens has outstripped the capacity of the current buildings onsite.

Since opening in 1975, buildings at the gardens have not been renovated.

The gardens sprawled over the 22-hectare (55-acre) site will remain untouched as it is home to about 255,000 plants.

The city garden is managed in conjunction with the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association, which works to raise funds for the garden’s development and the refurbishment is a joint-venture between the association and the parks board.

“In Phase 1 we are looking at improving access to the garden and (to) improve the visibility,” Ross said, adding that the garden’s entrance is now low-key and many motorists drive by it.

The goal is to make the whole entrance area more user-friendly.

“We want to enlarge the gift shop and do some work to the interpretive centre where groups gather,” he said.

“There are also plans for a separate pavilion from the facility, which could be used as a large meeting, reception and rental area.”

The first phase is projected to cost about $6.5 million.

Phase 2 will look at areas such as the administration building, library, volunteer centre and the seed collection area.

While Peter Busby will be the managing director of the architectural design team, the project leader is Jim Huffman, who said the design team would be meeting over the next three months to look at design possibilities.

“We will look at their specific needs and try to develop a program,” he said, adding that one of the themes discussed at an early meeting was to try to have the building work with the garden, rather than just be located in it.

Huffman said that possibilities for such a plan exist with designing ways that the building works in an organic sense.

The plan could include capturing water and reusing water and even growing the vegetables used in the on-site restaurant.

He said that the project is currently one of the smallest in his office today, but is considered one of the most high-profile as the design team includes individuals such as Cornelia Oberlander, a North American landscaper with impressive credentials.

She was one of the first women to graduate Harvard University’s School of Design with a degree in landscape architecture in 1947 and she is currently working in New York with world-class architect Rezo Piano.

Once the design needs have been established, the actual design will be drawn up during the summer months and construction could begin this fall after tendering, depending upon the timing.

However, Ross said that if there are delays, it might have to be postponed until spring as it could interfere with the Festival of Lights, a major December attraction at the gardens.

Mary Butterfield, capital campaign director and a building committee member for the association, said that the $20 million is an over-all goal. There is a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in place between the park board and the association that each will contribute half of the needed funds.

Butterfield said that the association has raised more than $6 million, so it has about $3.7 million left to meet its obligation.

Butterfield said that the building committee did have a concept design in place, but now is meeting with the architectural and landscape team to reconsider much of that original design.

“The main message is that the design is starting,” she said.

Anyone wishing to donate to the refurbishment project can contact Butterfield or the VanDusen Botanical Gardens.

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