The project implements the first phase of a master plan to revitalize and enhance the visitor experience at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, a historic 43-acre nursery property located at the outskirts of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.
Working with a modest budget that includes site development, the 5,000 s.f. Visitor Pavilion re-purposes an abandoned concrete block storage building through a flexible-use program that includes a reception area, indoor & outdoor exhibit / event spaces, gift shop and ancillary support spaces. The rectangular building plan is simply organized to consolidate core functions at each end, thereby maximizing a centralized multipurpose area that directly connects to an outdoor terrace.
Taking advantage of site orientation, topography and axial connections to existing garden elements & pathways, the project provides new apertures that create visual and physical thresholds to the property at large – each responding to four unique relationships to the natural grade.
Inspired by the arboretum’s collection of trees and the wooded context, the design strategy overlays a series of modular wall and ceiling elements that recall traditional garden features such as growing trellises and decorative follies. An exterior cladding of custom-folded expanded aluminum mesh panels – drawing on an abstraction of tree bark textures - provides a continually changing surface that transforms the building through natural & artificial light. An interior ‘coffered’ ceiling of bent wood veneer panels is detailed & installed to recall the patterns of the expanded metal mesh panels used on the exterior, while also reflecting the quality of dappled light from the surrounding tree canopies.
Although seemingly visually complex, the primary materials of expanded aluminum mesh and wood veneer panels were chosen for their economy and durability, utilizing simple installation techniques, modular components and local off-site prefabrication with minimal construction waste.