NC Botanical Garden’s New LEED Platinum Education Center Opens

On the breezeway during the dedication ceremony October 12.
On the breezeway during the dedication ceremony October 12.

October 13, 2009 (CHAPEL HILL, NC) – Frank Harmon Architect PA of Raleigh, NC, has completed the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s new and thoroughly “green” 29,656-square-foot  Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Governor Beverly Perdue attended the dedication ceremony and praised the project for being slated as the first LEED Platinum certified building in the state.

A multi-award-winning “green” architect, Frank Harmon, FAIA, designed the center as a cluster of eco-friendly buildings, connected by breezeways and covered porches, that nestle into a wooded hillside.

Botanical1The “Flow of Ideas Exhibit” and Information Hall comprises the center section, along with a gift shop, library, and an area for plant sales. The Reeves Auditorium is located the western section, and the eastern wing houses classrooms and offices.

The cluster composition – or “family of buildings,” as Harmon likes to call it – serves as a gateway to the Botanical Garden and allows visitors to flow through the exterior space to the gardens behind the center and on to the trails and adjacent creek.

A new parking lot with porous paving provides access from Old Mason Farm Road to the Center. New gardens, to be developed over the next two years, will create expanded outdoor spaces.

A view showing one of the Center's rainwater collection cisterns.
A view showing one of the Center's rainwater collection cisterns.

All systems and materials in the Education Center were designed to minimize environmental impact and support human health. Green technologies include photovoltaic panels, above- and below-ground rainwater cisterns, bio-retention ponds, geothermal heating and cooling, natural day-lighting, and low-flow plumbing. Construction materials were obtained from within a 500-mile radius, including lumber milled from the site. Recycled components include steel beams made out of scrap metal from automobiles.

Embracing all the principles of sustainable design, the NC Botanical Garden Visitor’s Education Center is slated to receive LEED-Platinum certification.

“This is a gentle building with a green heart, embracing its North Carolina hillside and forming a doorway for future generations,” Harmon said.

Botanical2Director Peter White has called the Center a “generously proportioned, green, and welcoming facility [that] will have a transformative impact on the way the Garden is experienced.”

Harmon noted that all stakeholders in the project — staff, visitors, faculty, Foundation and neighbors – actively participated in the design concept.

“We facilitated 20 design workshops, drawing on the energy and knowledge of all constituents to create the building and landscape design,” he said.

Frank Harmon, FIAA (photo by f8 Photo Studios)
Frank Harmon, FAIA (photo by f8 Photo Studios)

David Swanson served as the landscape architect for the project. Isaac Panzarella PE of Consider Design created the mechanical and green systems design. Carl Simmons PE served as civil engineering and Charles Murphy PE served as structural design. The project manager was Matt Griffith, AIA, of Frank Harmon Architecture PA.

The grand opening and dedication took place October 12 to coincide with University Day, which celebrates the laying of the cornerstone of the first building at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For more information on the North Carolina Botanical Garden and its new Education Center, go to

For more information on Frank Harmon visit
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