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RBG Rock Garden undergoes $20-million transformation


May 20, 2016
by Canadian Architect

Photo: CS&P Architects

Photo: CS&P Architects

The Rock Garden in Hamilton is one of the major venues of the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) and was originally constructed in 1931. The RBG recently announced the opening of the David Braley and Nancy Gordon Rock Garden, which has undergone a three-year, $20-million transformation.

The new garden respects the iconic treasure’s heritage, look and feel while celebrating the beginning of a new era. The project started with a commitment from the federal and provincial governments and grew through the support of donors and the community.

The design was led by CS&P Architects as the prime consultant, working closely with Janet Rosenberg Studio on the landscape, garden design and site development. Features include a new Visitor Centre to host the public and special events, restoration of the heritage Garden House, the Daglish Family Foundation Courtyard with elegant stone walls, rebuilt water features that meander throughout the garden landscape and a rejuvenated planting plan in the garden that retains the prime specimens and adds extensive new planting that embraces sustainable trends in garden design and management, while enhancing the integrity of the heritage setting.

Photo: Janet Rosenberg and Studio

Photo: Janet Rosenberg and Studio

The focus of the design was to increase the public visibility and presence of the Rock Garden, improve accessibility of all areas to guests, provide a venue for the RBG to host events in all seasons, introduce a more sustainable planting plan with environmental benefits and address significant infrastructure issues to upgrade sustainability for the 80-year-old site.

As part of the transformation, the new Visitor Centre re-establishes the Rock Garden as the gateway to the cities of Hamilton and Burlington, giving it a new entrance and much stronger presence on York Boulevard. From the Centre, visitors can access the paths to the garden areas, the Daglish Family Foundation Courtyard, the restaurant café or simply view the gardens through the large floor-to-ceiling windows.

“As the new entry point to the Rock Garden site, the shape of the building follows the natural curved forms of the walkway paths that lead out of and into the garden,” says Peter Ortved, CS&P Principal. “The building is a distinctive and memorable form that evokes the trees and leaf shapes of the garden and serves as a visible landmark from all areas of the surrounding garden pathways.

Photo: Janet Rosenberg and Studio

Photo: Janet Rosenberg and Studio

The Visitor Centre’s entry façade is a long, curved stone wall, and visitors cross a small footbridge over the entry water feature and under the overhang of the leaf-shaped roof before entering the Centre. Once inside, the high ceiling, multi-purpose room with its roof framed in heavy timber, serves as a year-round venue for public activities, dining, business events and celebrations. Interior finishes are limited and deliberately reflect the materials and qualities of the garden itself – stone, wood and clear glass. Exterior lighting and sound systems have been added throughout the garden areas.

Photo: Janet Rosenberg and Studio

Photo: Janet Rosenberg and Studio

The only other building onsite is the existing Garden House, which was completely renovated and upgraded to serve as a supplementary exhibit area and to provide public washrooms within the garden area. The building, which dates from the 1960s, has an important heritage status within the Rock Garden. Consequently the structure, form and materials were all maintained and rehabilitated to reflect these important attributes. The stone walls, large windows and timber framing also served as inspiration for the design of the Visitor Centre.



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