The Horticulture Center at the University of Pennsylvania Morris Arboretum

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The Horticulture Center at the University of Pennsylvania Morris Arboretum

PROJECT OVERVIEW: The Horitculture Center at the University of Pennsylvania Morris Arboretum is a new 20,840-square-foot facility that provides space for staff to manage their extensive responsibilities for the Morris Arboretum’s 167-acre property in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.  It also provides suitable storage and maintenance areas for the variety of equipment needed to care for the property.  The added facilities enhance research opportunities by making other existing space available for preserving and studying the Arboretum’s plant collections.

History of the Morris Arboretum

The Morris Arboretum, which overlooks the picturesque Whitemarsh Valley, consists of two estates. One of these estates, known as “Compton,” lies in Philadelphia County and was the summer home of John and Lydia Morris, brother and sister. The I.P. Morris Company, an iron-manufacturing firm founded by their father and later run by John Morris, was a source of family wealth. The adjoining estate, “Bloomfield,” is situated in Montgomery County.

John and Lydia Morris laid plans for a school and laboratory at Compton devoted to horticulture and botany. Through the stewardship and vision of this Quaker family, Compton became the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania in 1932. Listed on The National Register of Historic Places, it is an interdisciplinary resource center for the University and is recognized as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Science, art, and humanities are pursued through a variety of research, teaching, and outreach programs that link the Arboretum to a worldwide effort to nurture the earth’s forests, fields and landscapes.


The Horticulture Center

The Horticulture Center is located at Bloomfield Farm, a beautiful landscape of woodlands and meadows bordered by the environmentally sensitive Wissahickon Creek.  The Center functions primarily as the “working side” of the Arboretum, where horticulture and education staff convene and where vehicles, equipment and materials are stored for the purpose of maintaining the Arboretum’s public buildings and grounds.

When fully complete, the Horticulture Center will consist of both new and renovated buildings anchored by an informal “farm courtyard.”  The Center is taking shape in two phases.  Phase One consists of four new buildings.  These buildings include new offices, conference rooms, a staff lounge and other support spaces for approximately 28 staff members as well as two carpentry shops and three garages that house the Arboretum’s extensive collection of tools and maintenance vehicles.  Existing buildings at Bloomfield Farm include a 19th century red barn, a Mechanic’s Shop and two 19th century residential buildings.  Staff and visitor parking and material storage areas complete the site functions.  In the future, when the Arboretum constructs Phase Two, the renovated barn and a new education and events building will provide additional classroom and gathering space.  The Horticulture Center will be a place of work, learning and community.



About the Design

Overland Partners | Architects

The design emerged in a series of participatory design workshops and meetings that engaged more than 60 staff, Board members, and friends and neighbors of the Arboretum.  Workshop participants created the mission statement for the project:

The Horticulture Center will be a convener for stewardship and learning that, by example, demonstrates the relationship between people, place and plants; where daily support of the garden is nourished; and where function integrates with beauty.

And they provided the overarching, Quaker-inspired design principle, “plain, but of the best sort.”

The project honors work, craft and stewardship.  The Horticulture Center is the realization of the Arboretum’s long term master plan created more than thirty years ago.  The master plan envisioned a state of the art facility at Bloomfield Farm to serve the needs of staff who work “behind the scenes” to design and maintain the public gardens.  After thirty years of improving the gardens and the visitor experience at Compton, the time had come to address staff requests.  A key goal of the Horticulture Center is to consolidate horticulture and maintenance functions at one location and to provide high quality work spaces that support staff in their critical mission. 

The design locates new buildings in the landscape to create an identifiable new place—a central farm courtyard--and uses simple, yet elegant forms and materials. A new stone, glass and metal office building provides work stations for staff and interns in a vaulted, open plan space with abundant daylight and views to the outdoors.  All staff can gather in an adjacent break room that also serves as a classroom.  A separate wing includes staff locker rooms and two carpentry shops.  Adjacent to the office building are the existing Mechanic’s Shop and three new garages to serve the Arboretum’s maintenance vehicles.  These gable and shed roof buildings define one edge of the farm courtyard and separate work areas from public areas.

The project has pursued the highest level of sustainable design and will be LEED-certified.  The project offers the opportunity to convey sustainable design and construction concepts to the public via docent-led tours and interpretive signage.




The Sustainability Features of This Building

LEED Certification: Target Platinum


Sustainable Sites

  • Green roofs above the new garages greet visitors and staff on arrival.  The two green roofs demonstrate the use of native and non-native plants in this important strategy for urban storm water management.  The verdant roofs and adjacent, high reflectance metal roofs minimize localized “heat islands.”
  • Storm water is carefully controlled to prevent rapid run-off to the nearby creek and possible flooding.   Storm water management includes the green roofs and a system of collection cisterns, some visible, some buried, that store water for re-use on site.
  • The surrounding landscape features native trees and shrubs, in addition to important specimens from the Arboretum’s own plant collection. 
  • The new buildings are clustered around the central “farm courtyard” to maximize surrounding open space, on the one hand, and to create a human-scaled work environment, on the other.  Lighting fixtures direct light to the ground, where it is needed for safety and way-finding, and not to the night sky.


Water Efficiency

  • Water is a precious resource worthy of the Arboretum’s stewardship.  Creating a “water balance” on the site—balancing local sources and uses of water —has guided the design of the Horticulture Center.
  • Rainfall is collected and stored in four cisterns located above and below ground.  This rainwater is used to flush toilets and to irrigate the surrounding gardens.
  • The use of native and adaptive plants in the landscape has reduced the demand for irrigation by more than 50 percent.  No potable water is used in irrigating the grounds.
  • High efficiency, low flow fixtures (toilets, urinals, faucets) further reduce the demand for water by more than 40 percent compared to conventional fixtures.  Potable water will be used for sewage conveyance only in the event of drought.


Energy and Atmosphere

  • The Horticulture Center is powered without the use of any fossil fuels.  Three strategies make this possible.
  • First, the new office and carpentry building has been designed to use an estimated 40 percent less energy than a code compliant building.  A well-designed building envelope, extensive day lighting and operable windows for natural ventilation help reduce the demand for electricity throughout the year.  The building taps the natural heating and cooling potential of the earth with high efficiency, ground-coupled heat pumps to condition the space.
  • Second, rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar hot water collectors provide on-site renewable energy that would otherwise come from the utility power grid.  For an arriving visitor, the PV panels are visible beyond the green roofs.
  • Third, remaining power needs are met under long-term “green power” contracts that the University has negotiated with wind and bio-mass power suppliers. The Morris Arboretum has made an initial commitment to buy ten years’ worth of green power.  


Materials and Resources

  • The project makes extensive use of regional materials, including handsome Wissahickon schist from a nearby quarry. More than 20 percent of the building materials were harvested and manufactured within a 500 mile radius of the project.
  • Likewise, recycled content included in the project’s steel, concrete and other materials constitutes more than 20 percent, by cost, of the total building materials used.
  • During construction, the contractor diverted more than 75 percent of all construction waste away from landfills to recyclers.  Recycled waste included sheetrock, metal and lumber.  The contractor removed several existing concrete pads to make way for the new buildings, crushed the concrete on site and reused it as gravel base for new paved areas. Some concrete remnants can now be found as recycled pavers in the landscape.
  • The tables in the two conference rooms use large “flitches” from walnut and oak trees culled from the Arboretum’s public gardens.  Other wood for doors and cabinets is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified and comes from sustainably-managed forests.


Indoor Environmental Quality

  • The design of the Horticulture Center emphasizes views to the surrounding meadows and woodlands.  Large windows and clerestories provide natural lighting for most of the facility.  Many windows are operable to allow natural ventilation on nice spring and fall days.
  • Staff are able to exercise individual control of their work environments with task lighting, window shades and adjustable air vents located at their work stations. The building’s mechanical system also monitors CO2 in the work space to ensure a proper balance of fresh, outside air at all times.
  • The design team carefully selected paints, carpets, sealants and wood panel products to create a healthy interior environment free of harmful chemicals.
  • In addition, prior to taking occupancy, and for an extended period of several weeks, the Arboretum circulated outside air through the building’s HVAC systems to flush out any residue of construction dust and emissions.


Innovation in Design

  • The Horticulture Center is part of the teaching mission of the Arboretum.  Trained docents conduct regular tours highlighting the sustainable features of the project. The two types of green roofs will be teaching tools, just as the pervious parking lots on the Compton side have been visited by municipal engineers and others for many years.
  • The Horticulture Center achieved exemplary performance in sustainable design for its responsible use of water and its sensitive use of the existing site.
  • In these and other ways, the Horticulture Center embodies the mission of the Arboretum and the Morris family: “Let us be worthy stewards.”


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