The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), an international cultural and scientific center for conservation, recently held the ground breaking ceremony for its $48 million, 69,000-square-foot facility, which will be located adjacent to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
BRIT will seek the LEED Green Building Rating System Platinum certification for its new facility, which would be the first at that level in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, the second in the North Texas area, and the fifth in Texas. BRIT’s new home will be one of the first buildings in the region to have a “living” roof, and it will be planted with flowering plants of the Fort Worth Prairie variety suitable for the climate.
Participants in the ground breaking included Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief; Tim McKinney, chair of BRIT’s Board of Trustees; Edward P. Bass, vice chair of BRIT’s Board; Elaine Petrus, a Board member and head of BRIT’s long-range planning committee, and S. H. Sohmer, Ph.D., director and president of BRIT. For the unique ground breaking, the participants performed the ceremonial first planting for the living roof of the new building using Little Bluestem, Liatris aestivalis, Seep Muhly, Scribner’s Rosettegrass, and Cedar Caric Sedge, which are representative of the carefully chosen plants for the new roof. More than 200 city leaders, major donors, members of the Board, and other supporters attended the event. Guests received a memento, a flower press, which ties in with BRIT’s mission.
BRIT’s new home in Fort Worth’s Cultural District will be built on a 5.2-acre site leased from the City of Fort Worth. H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture LLC (H3) is the design architectural firm for the project, and Balmori Associates, Inc., is the landscape design firm, both of New York. Completion is scheduled for early 2011.
“BRIT’s new home will be the embodiment of BRIT’s mission: to conserve our natural heritage by deepening our knowledge of the plant world and achieving public understanding of the value that plants bring to our lives,” said McKinney.
Dr. Sohmer said, “Our new facility will demonstrate our commitment to sustainable design and environmental responsibility. It will have a proper environment for our priceless herbarium and library and a fascinating atmosphere for botanical study for the researchers, educators, and the thousands of schoolchildren whom BRIT serves annually.”
The new facility will include the Suzanne Rall Peacock Learning Center, a new program endowed by The Rainwater Charitable Foundation— and named in memory of its late executive director— for educators to learn how to teach their students about conservation and nature.
About the Building’s Configuration
BRIT’s new building will be organized into two parts. The Archives Block will house BRIT’s herbarium in a two-story, 20,000-square-foot, climate-controlled space, with the remaining 5,000 square feet for research and BRIT’s library. This volume of space will be constructed of tilt-up concrete and partially topped with a solar-paneled roof. The 44,000-square-foot Think Block for the education, exhibit, and administrative areas will be filled with natural light through floor-to-ceiling glass on the north façade. The design allows for future expansion of 15,000 square feet. The living roof will cover the Think Block.
About the Landscape Plan
Highlights of the working landscape include the living roof, overlapping vines of the region to cover the walls of BRIT’s herbarium, and a parking lot with water-cleaning plants. An integration of landscape and parking occurs with the design of planted research fields within the parking bays. The roof, walls, and braided pathways will showcase some of BRIT’s areas of research as well as floral representatives of the Fort Worth Prairie such as Mealy sage (Salvia farinacea), Purple-fruit prickly pear (Opuntia phaeacantha), Narrow leaf gayfeather (Liatris mucronata), Indian Blanket (Galliardia pulchella), and Penstemon (Penstemon triflorus).
The Living Roof
An extensive living roof system will be installed for the BRIT facility. Living roofs offer significant climate regulation for buildings and, through the absorption of solar energy, help to mitigate a site’s heat-island effect. The living roof will improve the sustainability of the project and will serve as an educational tool for BRIT.
A braided landscape system made up of paths, water, and a shady walkway lined with trees will create a cool, welcoming environment. While one main path will provide access from BRIT to the lecture hall of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden (FWBG), another will wind toward the Garden’s entry. Concrete pavers and crushed limestone will differentiate the two paths as they wind together toward BRIT’s entry. Secondary braids of gravel will lead to views of special small-scale areas. The wider path will move through the lobby and exhibit area of BRIT’s facility, winding through the planted Fort Worth Prairie on the north side of the facility.
The children’s classroom door will open to a path leading to an outdoor classroom located south of the BRIT facility. Plants and colorful flowers will surround the winding path leading to a grass oval where students will gather for activities. The geological strata of the Fort Worth Prairie of thin limestone and sand will be recast as a set of ledges for outdoor seating.
To meet LEED Platinum certification, BRIT’s building and landscape features will include both a living roof and walls and a solar-paneled roof, which are described above, energy conservation, bio-based materials, reduced site disturbance, and storm water management.
To conserve energy, the building’s geothermal system will use the constant temperature characteristics of the earth as heat sink in summertime and heat source in wintertime. The energy model for the BRIT building shows significant savings in energy use compared to a baseline of a building with a typical commercial heating and cooling system. The environmental benefits of this include reduced loads on energy-generating plants and therefore reduced emissions.
Bio-based materials including bamboo ceilings, cork wall coverings, and wool carpets will be used in various parts of the design.
In order to achieve one of the LEED goals, a large portion, approximately 93.4 percent, of the materials that have been removed from the site (steel beams, joists and decking, aluminum, concrete, and brick asphalt) will be recycled and used in a land reclamation. This recycling greatly reduces the amount of materials to be disposed of in a landfill and reduces the demand for virgin materials. The reduction in the environmental impact associated with the resource extraction and processing will make it possible in turn to extend the lifetime of existing landfills and avoid the need for expansion into valuable green space. To further reduce site disturbance, the building has been carefully sited to preserve as many existing trees as possible.
A shared parking arrangement with the FWBG will allow for flexible use of parking spaces to minimize the parking areas. The existing parking lot will be augmented and redesigned to serve both BRIT and the FWBG; its 266 parking spaces will include the 126 existing FWBG spaces and an additional 140 BRIT spaces for visitors and staff. The storm water management system will direct water to flow across pervious paving in sidewalks to “rain gardens” between the parking spines. The rain gardens, filled with native plants with low water demands, will gather, filter, and reuse rainwater for watering. They will overflow to a retention pond, which will be the source of water for irrigation. Rainwater is also collected off of roof areas and channeled to the pond. The pond is topped up during dry periods using ground water from a well that taps into an underground stream.
Images: Balmori Associates/H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture