The Botanic Gardens' new 5,258-square-foot Science Pyramid's iconic design reflects a blend of progressive design, sustainable technologies and biomimetic principles that mirror the building's purpose—the advancement of science. Intended to showcase the fascinating research being done at the Gardens on contemporary botanic and environmental issues as well as topics like the global steppe climates, the new space will empower visitors to become citizen scientists and do their part as ambassadors for global conservation as a part of the Gardens' broader mission. Various projects conducted under the Gardens' Center for Global Initiatives will also be featured.
Client: Denver Botanic Gardens (Brian Vogt, CEO) Green inside and out, Denver Botanic Gardens began in 1951 and is considered one of the top botanical gardens in the United States and a pioneer in water conservation. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Gardens’ living collections encompass specimens from the tropics to the tundra, showcasing a plant palette chosen to thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. The Gardens is a dynamic, 24-acre urban oasis in the heart of the city, offering unforgettable opportunities to flourish with unique garden experiences for the whole family – as well as world-class education and plant conservation research programs. Additional sites extend this experience throughout the Front Range: Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is a 750-acre native plant refuge with an active farm in Jefferson County; Mount Goliath is a high-altitude trail and interpretive site on the Mount Evans Scenic Byway.
Background: Denver Botanic Gardens' Science Pyramid was commissioned through a formal design competition seeking teams to join previously selected general contractor GH Phipps Construction Companies which had been tasked with creating an iconic structure to house exhibits featuring the Gardens' conservation and research efforts. The competition had specifically requested a Pyramid with dynamic glass elements. The Burkett Design team, during that phase, included Boulder-based Studio NYL as structural engineer/enclosure consultant. They began their design process by reinterpreting the simple pyramid form in more modern terms, and adjusting it to respond to the Gardens' primary circulation paths, daylight angles and programmatic needs. This resulted in a splitting and manipulation of the form to accommodate aesthetic, functional and programmatic needs. Because it was quickly determined that an all glass pyramid (similar to the Pyramide du Louvre, I.M. Pei's glass and metal entrance pyramid at the Louvre in Paris) was impractical, given the programmatic needs of a museum featuring digital and projection exhibits, it was decided that the pyramid would be defined by an opaque enclosure. Ultimately, the building's form catalyzed an intriguing blurring of elements—raising the question, "Which parts are truly walls and which parts are roof elements?" The need for a consistent material as the enclosure transitions from roof to wall, resulted in the selection of Swisspearl© fiber cement panels as the material for the building’s facade or skin. The skin’s geometry took its cues from early design iterations harkening back to hexagonal forms developed as a biomimicry concept derived from bee’s honeycombs.
DETAILED PROJECT INFORMATION:
Site & Location: The Science Pyramid is located in the south central portion of the Gardens' York Street location. Defined by pools of water on the south and west sides, a depressed amphitheater to the northeast, and the El Pomar Waterway to the east, the building's site selection assures 360-degree sightlines when viewed from the rest of the Gardens. Designed to respond to its surrounding environment while bringing a sense of scale appropriate to the site without dominating surrounding elements, the building rests on a square geometric platform from which it rises nearly 34 feet to its ultimate shape of a pyramid. The Pyramid is also diagonally divided into two sections and pulled apart slightly to create a visual connection along a diagonal axis with the existing Four Towers water feature on the southwest corner. The Pyramid's entry from the El Pomar Waterway, leads visitors to and from the building along a tranquil pool of water defined by tall vertical walls on each side. At the entryway, the building's skin is raised, forming an eyebrow over the threshold along the east façade.
Major Design Features: Biomimicry was the dominant theme guiding the development and formation of the Science Pyramid's design concept. Like a form emerging from the earth, the building portrays a dynamic, spiraling movement that symbolizes how tectonic plates push upward to create something brand new—in this case, giving way to a building that holds new life and knowledge at the Gardens. To further the concept, its building envelope or skin, imitates nature by shielding itself with hexagonal-shaped honeycomb cladding designed to protect the interior from rain, snow and wind, as is the nature of a beehive. The interior space and exhibits inform visitors to see the world of plants through a scientific lens.
Architectural Specifics/Geometry: In response, Denver Botanic Gardens' request for an iconic Science Pyramid to showcase their science work and a number of broader concepts such as global climate change, the Burkett Design team responded with a pyramid that mixes glazed and opaque systems. Further, rather than propose a conventional four-sided pyramid structure, the form was split and tweaked to respond to the Gardens' circulation corridors, incredible surrounding landscape and daylight. Stretching the form also provided space for important functional requirements such as mechanical systems. Much like how the sides of a pyramid lean on each other allowing it to perform like a three-dimensional three-pin arch, the Science Pyramid’s faceted sides meet at the “spine,” a glazed ribbon of skylights cutting diagonally through the building’s footprint. The skin of the building derives its geometry from early structural concepts using hexagonal shapes derived from honeycombs to establish rigid diaphragms.
Envelope: The Pyramid's technologically advanced, high performance skin (façade), designed by Studio NYL, is clad in four-foot-wide hexagonal-shaped ventilated Swisspearl fiber-cement panels that mimic the geometric efficiency of nature's wax honeycombs. Thirty panels feature photovoltaic collectors tasked with gathering energy for interior exhibits. In addition, the central portion of the structure and multiple glass portholes are constructed of electrochromic glass, which adjusts in opacity from clear to 97 percent opaque throughout the day, based on solar intensity, or at the flip of a switch as the building's program requires. At sundown, the windows lighten to reveal the building's colorful interior exhibits and exterior flora nearby.
Structural and Enclosure Systems (4 Layers): The Science Pyramid has four layers to its structure and shell. The first layer, or primary structure consists of steel pipe elements which lean and balance themselves onto the “spine” of the building as noted above. The structure provides for a column-free interior to the “pyramid” and a primary structure that sheds all the vertical and lateral loads on it through flexure and axial loads through the pipe members. To avoid the costly and difficult to fabricate “fishmouthed” joints, the pipes with “T” and “K” intersections are square cut with simple “H” and “A” shaped connection elements, which saved considerable cost and schedule. The secondary structure is composed of six-inch hollow square structural shapes and six-inch light gage studs specifically arranged to meet the cladding systems geometry. It is also supported by slender rods to permit the ceiling to float over the primary pipe structural members. The final two layers make up the Pyramid’s technologically advanced skin (façade), designed by Studio NYL. A continuous layer of rigid insulation sits outboard of the secondary structure with an air barrier system directly adhered to it. The building is clad in four-foot-wide hexagonal-shaped ventilated Swisspearl fiber-cement panels that mimic the geometric efficiency of nature's wax honeycombs. They are mounted to a rail system held above the insulation and weather barrier with fiber reinforced polymer fasteners that thermally separate the outer skin from the interior structure.
Exhibits / Displays: The Science Pyramid's digitally interactive displays housed by the building were designed by Second Story/Part of SapientNitro, to foster a greater understanding of Colorado ecosystems and their similarities to others around the world. Featured exhibits highlight the Gardens’ recent work with the city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in an effort to draw parallels between Colorado, Mongolia and Patagonia climates and landscapes. In short, this unique exhibit space showcases the Garden's forward-thinking mission and incredible global influence, while demonstrating how visitors can get more involved. The general contractor was the GH Phipps Construction Companies based in Greenwood Village, Colorado.