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Ideas / Client Stories / 6.2.2022

Designing for Transition at the Missouri Botanical Garden

A ticket booth is clearly located in the new lobby

Widely considered one of the top botanical gardens in the world, the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis welcomes nearly one million visitors annually to tour stunning floral displays while learning about plant diversity and preservation.  

When the Garden commissioned Ayers Saint Gross to design an iconic new visitor center that would transform the visitor’s experience, the team faced an interesting challenge. The existing visitor center would be demolished to make room for the new building, displacing visitor center operations which needed to seamlessly continue service. How and where would the Garden continue to welcome its steady stream of guests during construction of the new visitor center?  

After an exploratory process working closely with our partners at the Garden, our consultants, and the construction manager, we arrived at a unique solution. A temporary visitor center would become the first phase of a complex three-phased project. Our first step involved construction of the permanent building shell that would eventually become an event center for the Garden. Until that fit-out, we purposed the space into a temporary visitor center large enough to accommodate critical operational elements, including ticketing and membership desks, visitor engagement kiosks, food service and gift shop operations, offices, and restrooms.  

This solution provided substantial savings over rented temporary structures and resulted in a space more integrated in its environment and branded to the Garden. Here are best practices that could be applicable to any temporary space of this kind.  

Ease of Assembly  

The temporary space would need to easily fit into and respect the building shell parameters of the final event center.  

To achieve this, we designed the temporary interior as a volumetric insert that could be placed inside the larger, permanent space. As shown in the diagram below, the volumes are carved to accommodate programmatic functions and wrapped in color to identify use. Using this insert approach gave us flexibility with our design while reducing costs. The inserts will also be easy to dissemble when the space is no longer needed, leaving behind an open and functional event space for future use.  

A diagram explains the volumetric insert approach for the phase one visitor center.

Thoughtful Material Choices 

Temporary does not equal low-quality. We chose materials carefully, looking for solutions that would be cost-effective, beautiful, and sustainable.  

The team selected simple, authentic materials to organize the space, including birch plywood and nature-inspired color and graphics for interest, texture, and vibrancy. Keeping sustainability in mind, we sought out products that could be recycled or reused as much as possible. Many of the space’s fixtures, including the birch wall panels, lighting, restroom fixtures, and HVAC and electricity/AV systems, will be reused or repurposed by the Garden going forward.  

A diagram of reusable materials at the Missouri Botanical Garden temporary visitor center

Extending the Brand  

Even though the space would be temporary, the team wanted it to feel like a natural and welcoming extension of the garden. The space is designed to feel open and light-filled, providing views to the Garden and an area for community connection and respite.  

Botanically inspired brand identity colors are used throughout the space’s signage and wayfinding, wrapping the walls, floors, and ceiling to distinguish each area’s programmatic function. Intentionally placed color blocks, stencils, and applied graphics provide essential wayfinding for visitors and add vibrance to the minimal palette.  

It was also important that the temporary center serve an educational purpose, supporting the Garden’s mission to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment. With that in mind, a special area of the center is defined for exploration of the new and permanent Visitor Center, while also providing information on the Garden’s mission, research, and impact.  

The visitor center includes an educational area where visitors can find out more about the garden's...

Successful Results 

While we are looking forward to unveiling the permanent Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center in only a few months, we are proud of this space and the creative solutions we found within the project’s tight restraints. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. In early 2022, this space was recognized by the IIDA Southwest with a first-place award for Design Excellence for a Single Space. Jurors praised the project’s clear concept along with its sustainable reuse plan, simple materials, and well-designed branding and wayfinding.  

This project was a memorable lesson in finding beauty in the process, showing how even the most temporary projects can be an opportunity for thoughtful, inspirational, and environmentally responsible design. 

Visitors follow wayfinding signs to the garden
The phase 1 visitor center is spacious enough to accomodate thousands of daily visitors and includes...
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