Christchurch‚s Botanic Gardens visitor centre

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It was by chance I stumbled across Christchurch’s first civic building to rise from the ashes of the quakes.

I had been meandering alongside the Avon River, photographing the eels that have now returned to its water. I turned a bend and stopped in my tracks. Across the river stood another post-quakes arrival — the new visitor centre in the city’s Botanic Gardens.

The building is striking, yet it is far more than that. The project brief was to produce a signature garden structure modelled on those grand English glasshouses of yesteryear as typified by Kew.

The architects, Patterson Associates, have succeeded in spades.

Their vision was to “connect people and plants”. To this end the building provides a light, airy space that opens out on to a new north-facing lawn on the banks of the Avon. The building’s interior and exterior complete a walking loop that circles the river, and which I had serendipitously stumbled over.

The building project was inaugurated to mark the 150th anniversary of the Botanic Garden. Patterson’s design was chosen following an open competition held in 2008, pre-quakes.

The project was delayed as a result of the earthquakes, and the new structure’s design was upgraded post-earthquakes to bring it in line with new earthquake and seismic standards.

The building is multi-purpose. Its 3200 square metres include a working nursery, herbarium, research library, cafe, gift shop, information centre, exhibition space and function room. In the cafe, a glass wall gives customers a view of the nursery plants and the staff at work.

In effect, the centre was conceived as one giant plant cell, its various functions emulating those of a plant cell — nucleolus, mitochondrion and cell walls, among others.

The transparency of the structure is achieved by the use of more than 1000 sq m of iron-free glass. Inside, the plant — and human — environment is regulated by an automated double system of shade and insulation blinds controlled by a central computer and weather station on the roof.

The walls are laminated with a white ceramic frit to control solar gain, especially on the western face. The frit and patterns inside the building create positive and negative stylised leaf patterns.

If you need a good excuse to visit the gardens when next in Christchurch, this is it. I can highly recommend it as a place for a coffee and a little R & R.

© K A Rodgers 2014