New Center Fosters STEAM Curriculum and Educational Experiences Among 460 Acres of Woodlands and Gardens
April 1 marked the opening of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden’s new Welcome Center, a 7,500 square foot building that greets visitors entering the garden and transports them to a place of exploration, wonder, and learning.
The Welcome Center, designed by San Antonio-based architectural and urban design firm Overland Partners in collaboration with local associate FortyEighty Architecture will not only be the point of entry to the Garden, but a central learning space designed to accommodate a variety of programming for all ages. Pittsburgh Botanic Garden partners with regional schools to provide STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Agriculture, Math) field trips, fostering experiential learning through connection with the natural world. Additional programming will include land reclamation workshops, horticulture lectures, planting demonstrations and private events.
“This new center will elevate the visitor experience by creating deeper engagement opportunities year-round,” said Keith S. Kaiser, Executive Director.
Inviting and intuitive, the new Welcome Center will be the starting point for immersion into the 460 acres of gardens and woodlands with reception, ticketing, a café, gift shop and offices as well as multi-function and event spaces. Views from inside immediately draw visitors into the canopy of deciduous and evergreen trees through floor to ceiling windows, while the adjacent café’s terrace suspends you into the greenery.
“The new Welcome Center is the gateway to the Garden. It invites visitors to leave behind their busy lives by quietly inviting them into the natural setting while orienting and informing with views, information, art and access to the gardens and woodlands,” said Overland Partners’ Senior Architect Charles Schneider, AIA, LFA.
“We wanted the lush site and second-growth forest to take center stage in the Welcome Center by using the existing topography and integrating biophilic design, reinforcing the relationship between nature and the built environment while bringing an overall sense of well-being to visitors,” said Rebecca Sibley, AIA, LEED AP, Overland Partners Architect.
Outdoor spaces surrounding the Welcome Center were designed by Pittsburgh landscape architecture firm Pashek + MTR. The Entry Garden draws visitors through a grove of American Hornbeam trees, and will be lushly underplanted with grasses, ferns, and woodland perennials. The large education rooms connect to the Courtyard Garden, an outdoor plaza set into the hillside featuring a stone water wall inspired by the seeps often encountered on local rock outcrops.
To facilitate safe access to the Welcome Center, a new Auto Garden designed by Pittsburgh-based civil engineering firm Civil & Environmental Consultants and landscape architecture firm Pashek + MTR, expands parking while also housing a 177,000-gallon storm-water detention system underneath, which collects rainwater runoff from nearly seven acres of the property.
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden was one of the first recipients of funding from U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), allowing reclamation of previously unusable lands due to deep and surface coal mining and acid mine drainage that polluted local water tributaries. Through conservation and restoration efforts that began in 2005, mining hazards were removed, 10,000 saplings were planted, and three operational passive filter systems were built to mitigate acid mine drainage, which now cleans 25 million gallons of water before entering the region’s watershed.
“Creating a sustainable future from its industrial past, the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is a shining example of how to restore land from a hazardous landscape to a thriving garden and woodland area,” said Overland Partners Robert Shemwell, FAIA, Principal on the project.
Pittsburgh Botanic Garden is located at 799 Pinkerton Run Road, Oakdale, PA. More details can be found at pittsburghbotanicgarden.org.