The Naples Botanical Garden is preparing to enhance one of the most beautiful settings in all of Southwest Florida with some exciting additions. During the upcoming scheduled two-week maintenance of the garden, construction will begin on the Eleanor and Nicholas Chabraja Visitor Center and adjacent gardens. The center will include a new restaurant; garden shop; indoor space designed to host traveling exhibits, art shows and lectures; plenty of cool, shady seating and restrooms; and three new gardens to peruse.
|A rendering of the new Eleanor and Nicholas Chabraja Visitor Center at the Naples Botanical Garden – Lake | Flato Architects.
“It’s going to be a really beautiful, sustainably built space with wonderful amenities for our visitors,” says Executive Director Brian Holley. “With Lake|Flato Architects designing the building with the aim of earning LEED Gold certification, it gives us a beautiful architectural statement that’s a demonstration of sustainable building strategies, which is very important to us.”
The vision of Lake | Flato, where architecture, according to the firm, is “rooted to its place, responds to the natural environment and merges with the landscape,” is especially important in a place like Naples. Environmental protection is critical in this area for any new development, but it is particularly important in a place like the botanical garden. The Naples Botanical Garden is all about place, whether it means representing faraway locales like Indonesia and Thailand in the Asian Garden, regional tropics in the Caribbean Garden, or Southwest Florida up close in the Florida Garden. The garden’s sense of place has been accomplished through painstaking redevelopment of the land, an unparalleled dedication to authenticity, and meticulous upkeep and care for the flora ambassadors that grace the acreage.
San Antonio-based Lake|Flato is a national leader in sustainable design and in creating “site-sensitive” structures like the new Eleanor and Nicholas Chabraja Visitor Center. The design is not just aesthetically beautiful; the new visitor center will also incorporate a variety of innovative sustainable building materials and practices to minimize the new construction’s carbon footprint. Using recycled and reclaimed material will give the structure some soul while avoiding the need for deforestation for creating building materials. The structure’s siding will consist of “sinker cypress,” logs of long-felled cypress trees that have been preserved in Florida’s rivers, which reduces the need to cut down new trees while also improving navigation in Florida’s rivers by removing the long-submerged obstructions. To preserve water, rainwater cisterns with a storage capacity of 18,000 gallons will be installed for irrigation, and water that is not stored will be diverted to the lake along the northern boundary of the garden. The space will capitalize on Florida’s seemingly perpetual sunny skies and incorporate day-lighting strategies to reduce the need for electrical lighting—including skylights and strategically placed windows—while well-insulated interior space with state-of-the-art cooling systems geared to the size and seasonality of the space will help reduce energy use.
The visitor center is surrounded by a large expanse of outdoor space with the sole purpose of getting visitors to experience nature—a point not lost on Lake | Flato.
Lake | Flato
“The most important thing we did was reduce the amount of [air-]conditioned square footage by moving the circulation outside and onto shaded structures,” says Tenna Florian, project architect for the new visitor center. “The garden is all about visitors being outside, experiencing the landscape. Our design encourages that experience while keeping visitors comfortable by providing shade and air movement [that is, fans].”
The physical footprint of the new building, the angle at which it sits, the placement of walls, and open spaces were all meticulously designed to benefit from the area’s natural wind and weather patterns and the sun’s daily progression across the sky. Lots of shade, a natural cross-breeze, strategic lighting and fan placement will make for a low-energy-use structure.
Along and throughout the new visitor center, three new garden spaces will take root, each bringing a new and dynamic piece to the already established layout of the botanical garden, completing the project that began in 2006. Miami-based Raymond Jungles, who also designed the Brazilian Garden, has drawn up specs on what is to be a lush and verdant entry. The vision for the new visitor center gardens, as Holley puts it, “is to dramatically augment the visitor experience. Designing a garden is a lot like theater. You really have to think about what the visitor is going to experience.”
|Kathryn’s Garden, rendered by Raymond Jungles.
In the new design, visitors are first led into Kathryn’s Garden. “The idea is for it to be a really dense, jungle-like experience, so when visitors first start the process of going through the garden, it is obvious they are in a botanical garden. Their environment is being affected by the plants around them through shade, sound, fragrance and texture,” says Holley. “It’s kind of this amazing feeling of being enveloped by plants.”
The next steps will lead to the Charismatic Garden, where the vision closely sticks to its name. Holley describes this section as a place “where we try to focus the visitor’s attention, sight lines, to plants that have charismatic qualities. It could be a really spectacular cycad, a wonderful palm or a beautiful heliconia, things that hopefully focus people’s attention.”
|A spec of the Charismatic Garden by Raymond Jungles.
The third environment is dedicated to epiphytes. The Orchid Garden will display the botanical garden’s growing collection of orchids, bromeliads, antheriums—even an epiphytic blueberry variety set up in a dense layering of plants. And though many of the orchids affixed to the trees stem from faraway places, many have roots right here in Naples.
“We have developed an amazing relationship with orchid growers in the area who are avid volunteers for us,” says Holley. “They have really helped us build our collection, with us selectively purchasing collections over the past two years.” The Orchid Garden reflects the connection the botanical garden has developed with the community, not only as a beautiful space for visitors to roam, but as a place they can call their own.
|The Orchid Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden’s new visitor center – Design by Raymond Jungles.
The construction of the Eleanor and Nicholas Chabrajo Visitor Center and Kathryn’s, the Charismatic and Orchid gardens marks the completion of the botanical garden’s master plan envisioned in 2006. “But it has evolved,” says Holley. The original plan did not specifically call for the Orchid or the Charismatic Garden, but these took hold through interaction with the community and visitors coming through the gates.
“It seems like every second visitor wants to know where the orchids are … so we developed the Orchid Garden,” he says, while the Charismatic Garden concept came mainly through observation. “Watching people for the last three years in the gardens, it became clear that they are in awe of these amazing plants, like the screw pine that’s in the visitor center now. We wanted to put the focus on the plants through the design of this garden.” Completing the Naples Botanical Garden vision, the new visitor center and complementary gardens will stand at the highest point on the property. Upon entry, viewers will be granted a wide vista of the site’s other garden sections. This has been a missing link—a piece to a larger puzzle that always seems to be growing.
- Construction on the Eleanor and Nicholas Chabraja Visitor Center begins this September. Completion is scheduled for fall 2014. The entirety of the Naples Botanical Garden will remain open to the public during construction, though a privacy fence will cordon off the construction site.
- For more information on the new visitor center and the Naples Botanical Garden, visit naplesgarden.org.