Patterson Associates

Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre . Christchurch


Patterson Associates . photos: © Emma Smales . + set of pictures

Christchurch is rebuilding after a devastating series of earthquakes which shook it during 2010. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens Visitors Centre is one of the first large scale public projects completed since the quakes and was opened in April 2014 by William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.



© Simon Devitt

© Simon Devitt

© Simon Devitt

© Simon Devitt






Founded in 1863, The Christchurch Botanic Gardens lie within a 21 hectare loop of the Avon River that weaves its way throughout the city. This project is located as part of a walking loop around the gardens and is now a new focal point for visitors. The building brings together the public facilities of a visitor’s centre with the Garden’s functioning greenhouse and research facilities. It draws on the long tradition of garden glasshouse structures used as exhibition spaces and seeks to display and celebrate the functions of the botanical gardens.
The building’s programme is conceived as a series of deep thresholds layered up against the eastern boundary of the gardens. The first layer is a fully public space and includes information desk, café, shop and a flexible exhibition space. This is orientated to draw people through its long gallery space as they walk the perimeter path of the gardens. This space also opens out to the western lawns for outdoor dining and summer events.

The second layer is a semi-public space, a threshold where the garden staff, private functions, exhibition spaces and green house guided tours interact. This layer includes the greenhouse and shade-house, research laboratories, propagation rooms, library, exhibition and multi-purpose conference room. These specialised rooms, each with their own specific thermal and atmospheric conditions are housed as cell-like pods within the greenhouse structure.
The third layer is for the garden staff and non-visible operational spaces which are hidden behind mirrored glazing that visually doubles the depth of the green house. This operational area encloses a long service courtyard flanked by utility sheds serving the gardens.

The building’s crystalline glass form has been developed from a modular commercial greenhouse system. By modifying and folding this roof form down over a steel structure it has created a folded geometry of glazed walls wrapping the building like a thick membrane. The building plays with transparency, mirrored reflection and the layering of fritted glass to both display the workings of the botanic gardens while also subtly concealing staff-only areas. The glass ceilings and skylights form a varied, leafy-like canopy that sheds dappled light to the interior and visitors are surrounded by lush green plants as they move through the layered spaces.


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