Washington Park Arboretum's new Visitor's Center

Arboretum Visitor Center-North Gateway I have been collaborating with Susan Black and Associates to formulate a vision for the expansion of the Washington Park Arboretum facilities, as part of the SR 520 replacement and the demolition of the highway ramps that currently dominate the north end of the Park.

With this project, we are proposing a " new gateway structure to orient visitors, provide space for general services and curation/collection exhibits, and fulfill many of the aims of the 2001 Master Plan.  As conceptualized, the development respects the history of the site and reclaims the altered landscape to natural, healthy conditions.  It will provide organization, orientation, and education for visitors as a means to explore the greater Arboretum.

view of entry plaza-Washington Park Arboretum Visitor Center North Gateway

As a gateway, the design will put visitors in the frame of mind for the study and enjoyment of the Park.  Balancing educational needs and recreation activities as functions that informally overlap and inform each other, the facility welcomes both types of visitor and enfolds them in the living greenness of the Arboretum/Lake Washington edge environment.  The building concept blends with the naturalistic organization of the site with minimal visual impact and performs as a closed loop system with regard to energy and water, using only resources collected on site.  The concept also enhances the connectivity to the adjacent neighborhood and trail system and welcomes pedestrian and bike traffic.


The buildings are gently folded into a rolling wetland rise like leaves blown in on the wind.  The roofs are gently articulated to provide shelter and solar access.  Rammed earth walls announce the gateway yet continue uninterupted through the glass to become an integral part of the ambiance of the facility.  Glass walls provide an invisible barrier to the surrounding landscape during the day.  In the evening, light from the buildings spills out onto grounds muted by the vegetation foliage.

Washington Park Arboretum Visitor Center North Gateway

Retaining a small remnant of the “flyover” bridge allows for the development of an elevated promenade for the establishment of a “pier garden”.  The pier would be planted in a series of linear landscapes culminating in an overlook of the southern waterway of the Mountlake Cut.  The pier garden provides the visitor a new perspective of the northern limits of the Arboretum, Foster Island and the day-lighted Arboretum Creek." (from the Concept Plan)

Ideally, the building will be designed to the standards of the Living Building Challenge.  I've anticipated about 75kW of photovoltaics on the roof, plus a ground source heat pump for building climate control, harvesting all rain water for the building's use and to irrigate the demonstration gardens.

We've only just put this out into the public sphere for comments, and I can imagine that we'll have some lively discussions about how a modern structure fits within the Olmsteadian structure of the park.  I ultimately think that the contemporary architecture will best serve the Foundation, rather than grafting high performance energy and sustainable systems onto something that is overtly historicist.   The Washington Park Arboretum can look both both into its own history and the future to chart a path for success in it's second century.

Renderings courtesy of Lambert Design Studio