Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center
The Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a global leader in plant science research. Entering a new era, the Garden engaged Ayers Saint Gross to design an iconic visitor center as the primary gateway for more than one million annual visitors. This state-of-the-art facility represents a bold, transformative vision for the Garden and its mission “to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.” Inspired by the history of the Garden, the rich, diverse landscape and concepts of biophilic design, the center blurs boundaries between indoors and outdoors, creating an immersive experience by incorporating elements of the natural world.
The Visitor Center integrates seamlessly into the Garden’s arrival sequence, serving as part of a series of thresholds that allow the Garden to slowly reveal itself. Visitors first pass through the historic stone garden walls and follow an existing axis framed by an allée of mature trees. The building’s solid north façade mimics traditional greenhouse design and defines a second threshold, which is broken by a transparent portal and vertical glass lantern. The lantern serves as a beacon and provides visual and physical connection to the garden beyond. Through the work of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, a new north garden extension greets visitors upon arrival and brings the garden experience to the forefront.
Once inside, visitors are immersed in natural light as they take in views of the Garden through the transparent south–facing façade. The lobby axis is centered on garden paths and fountains, providing an immediate sense of place.
The building is designed around the idea of continuity of the experience of nature. The lantern serves as a moment of pause and reflection, evoking the feeling of entering a clearing in the woods. The suspended scrim is perforated in a pattern inspired by tree canopies, filtering and dappling light into the lobby. At night, the glow of the lantern acts as a beacon for visitors and the community.
Custom terrazzo flooring reflects the local landscape with inlays of local river rock and brass accents representing the native Missouri woodland that appear as fallen leaves. The ticketing and visitor engagement desk forms are influenced and inspired by the shape of rounded rocks and pebbles, while pendant lights above provide a luminescent sparkle calling to mind fireflies, stars, and droplets of rain.
Walls dividing the dining areas and café include pressed botanical specimens from the Garden’s collection, while the overhead lighting mimics the form of flora in full bloom. The dining area, designed with local architectural partners, Tao + Lee, includes a custom bench and community table made from the trunk of a Shumard Oak Tree that was previously part of the Garden’s living collection.
The Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center is designed to help visitors pause and reflect on the scale and importance of the work being done at the Garden — including the thousands of species housed, discovered, and named there — and the impact the institution has in the community and worldwide.
Tao + Lee - Local Architectural Partner