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Morris Arboretum's New Horticulture Center Complex: A Regional Model of Sustainability

November 23, 2010, Volume 57, No. 13

Paul Meyer
Morris Arboretum Director Paul Meyer with Dorrance Hamilton at the dedication ceremony.

On October 5, the Morris Arboretum celebrated the dedication of its new $13 million Horticulture Center Complex, a project that has been in the planning for more than 25 years.

Advisory Board Chair Ann Reed remarked, “The Morris Arboretum makes planning a priority. It may take us 25 years, but we get the job done.” Despite the intrepid weather, David Cohen, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, felt that the rain was a fitting backdrop to the dedication of a complex that is an exhibit in green design and sustainability. The event also included remarks by President Amy Gutmann, who commented that, “More than 75 years after becoming a public garden, we continue to be guided by founders John and Lydia Morris’s steadfast sense of stewardship. Penn’s commitment to educating new generations, to adopting sustainable practices, and to leading by example is evergreen.” She concluded by saying, “For an outstanding example of what can be achieved when respect for nature, love of education, and dedication to the future are combined, one can do no better than to visit the Morris Arboretum.”

Dr. Gutmann introduced philanthropist Dorrance ‘Dodo’ Hamilton, who has been instrumental in the funding for the Horticulture Center. Mrs. Hamilton applauded the arboretum’s perseverance in making the Horticulture Center a reality. “25 years is a long time to dream. I didn’t know if we’d all still be here. But here we are and isn’t it wonderful!”


An Arboretum Dream Come True

The interior has 24 work spaces in an open floor plan.

The Morris Arboretum’s new $13 million Horticulture Center at Bloomfield Farm, across the street from the Arboretum’s public garden, marks the first new building to be built on the property since the founding of the Morris Arboretum in the early 1900s. 

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann spoke at the dedication ceremony as did Dorrance Hamilton, who has been a key supporter of the Horticulture Center.

The completion of the new Horticulture Center Complex at Bloomfield signifies a time of great excitement and achievement for the Morris Arboretum. The complex utilizes modern sustainable energy and water management technologies, reflecting the stewardship and teaching intentions of its founders, John and Lydia Morris. Designed and built to achieve LEED Platinum standards, the highest rating of the US Green Building Council, the Horticulture Center is a demonstration of best land-use practices of our time. 

The Horticulture Complex was designed and built to achieve Platinum Level LEED Certification. If attained, it will be the first Penn building to achieve that status. The new complex has the following sustainable features:

• An efficient ground-source heat pump that provides heating and air conditioning for the building, using only about one-forth the energy of a typical boiler/air conditioning system.

• Photovoltaic panels that provide on-site generation of renewable energy, with peak electricity production during the hot summer months when the demand for electrical power is highest.

• The building is well insulated to eliminate infiltration of outside air and reduce the energy lost through the walls.

• Fresh air is maximized for ventilation inside the building.

• Solar hot water heaters provide much of the building’s hot water.

• Storm water is collected in cisterns and used to flush toilets and provide water for irrigation.

• The building’s lighting system is designed to take full advantage of natural daylight and minimize energy use by using skylights and roof monitors to supplement artificial lighting. Photocell sensors automatically dim the electric lights in use on bright days to reduce energy use.

• Rain gardens and other collection systems were built to mitigate storm water run off.

• The green roofs on the equipment storage garages capture and absorb rain, slowing the surge of stormwater to the site drainage system. A green roof also helps reduce the ambient summer temperature by providing a cool roof surface instead of the “heat island” associated with most asphalt or rubber roofs. The two green roofs on the garages are very visible examples of sustainability. The 4-bay garage has a four inch deep planting area with various types of sedum. The 6-bay garage green roof is eight inches deep and was planted by hand with an experimental mix of plant species including north American species and other plants that are native to this region. 

The newly created Horticulture Center will provide flexible work space for the Arboretum’s horticulture, education, maintenance, and facilities staff, providing important infrastructure for staff and equipment. The 20,840-square-foot facility will provide 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 contains:

• 24 office spaces

• Two conference rooms

• Kitchen

• Break room

• Men’s and women’s locker rooms

• Mechanic and arborists shop

• Storage for Arboretum vehicles including trucks, garden carts, lawn mowers and other large equipment

The added space enhances research opportunities, providing additional room for preserving and studying the Arboretum’s plant collection. It also provides suitable storage and maintenance areas for the variety of equipment needed to care for the property. The new complex is not open to casual visitors to the Morris Arboretum, but will be open for scheduled tours and special events.

The Horticulture Center was designed by architects from Overland Partners of San Antonio, TX, Muscoe Martin of Philadelphia’s M2 Architecture, and Adropogon Associates, Morris Arboretum’s Philadelphia based landscape planning partner since 1977.

The overarching goals for the Arboretum’s new Horticulture Center include creating a “forward looking” building of national significance that incorporates the highest standards in sustainable principles. It is a structure that is respectful of its site and surroundings, and a facility that meets programmatic needs for the Morris Arboretum. It presents a vision whose time has come.

John and Lydia Morris, wealthy Quaker siblings and plant collectors, purchased the Bloomfield Farm property in 1913, establishing a working farm with rich soils and a working mill with water rights. The farm provided fresh food for the household, and supplied animal feed, vegetables, poultry and dairy products for the community. They had purchased the property that became the arboretum in 1887.

The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is located at 100 East Northwestern Avenue in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. The 92-acre horticulture display garden features a spectacular collection of mature trees in a beautiful and colorful landscape. The Arboretum features numerous picturesque spots such as a formal rose garden, Japanese gardens, swan pond, an elegant fernery and the 2010 Best of Philly Award Winning Out-on-a-Limb canopy walk that transports visitors 50 feet above the ground. The Arboretum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit www.morrisarboretum.org.


The Arboretum's Horticulture Center is a model for eco-friendly construction, combining natural elements with contemporary design.


Almanac - November 23, 2010, Volume 57, No. 13