Outdoor Classroom and Vine Trellises for the Arnold Arboretum’s Flowering Vine and Shrub Collection

The 265-acre Arnold Arboretum displays North America’s premier collection of hardy trees, shrubs, and vines.The grounds were planned and designed by America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.Begun in 1872, the Arboretum remains one of the best preserved of Olmsted’s landscapes; it is one of the crown jewels that comprise Boston’s “Emerald Necklace.”

This project is a collaboration with Reed I Hilderbrand Landscape Architects. The plan of the new gardens, designed by Reed I Hilderbrand, is organic in form and spatially rich, evoking both the botanical traditions of French parterre gardens and the intricate patterns found in nature, such as the branching of trees or the veined configurations of insect wings.

The Pavilion structure, designed by Maryann Thompson Architects, serves as an outdoor classroom and a place of repose. The structure is a focal point within the overall composition of the gardens. Visitors moving toward the pavilion experience a spatial sequence of discovery, alternating between the intimacy created by the planted vine structures and the expansiveness of the central lawn. As one approaches the pavilion along the great wall, vine panels occlude views to the planted terraces and gradually reveal the shelter. Once at the pavilion, attention is directed out over the prospect of the gardens, revealing the expanse of the site and affording a view of the terraces from an elevated vantage point.

The pavilion structure is comprised of brushed stainless steel beams and columns that support a roof of lead-coated copper over natural cedar tongue and grove. The materiality of the pavilion evokes the metal garden structures of the late 19th century. The juxtaposition of the wood elements with the stainless steel allows for a reading that is both modern and vernacular, both clean and textured. The durability of the steel pavilion and trellis structures is a practical response to the demands of woody twining vines such as Wisteria that can twist and destroy a wooden structure. The south edge of the pavilion structure is lined with vine supports that, when fully planted, will allow for the southern sun to throw a dappled light onto the pavilions stone floor. The pavilions columns and beams rise from the earth with a natural economy of means, while its system of struts and cables suggests an architectural interpretation of the tendrils of climbing vines. The geometry of the column lines shift in plan and section, at once veiling the entrance to the pavilion, then opening the space dramatically out toward the gardens.

Two sections of wood and metal roof float overhead with the same slightly skewed shapes as the planting beds. The slot of space between the two roofs allows shafts of southern sun and views of the sky to penetrate to the terrace below. The shaft of light adds richness to the texture of the pavilion, acting as an additional textured material. Stainless steel railings with polished wood caps provide crisp contrast to the earth and stone that surround them.

The exquisitely crafted stone walls that form a base for the structure connect it to the terraces below and the hills and trees in the background. A freestanding stone wall forms the western edge of the pavilion, providing a barrier to the traffic noise on nearby Center Street and the Jamaica Way. This stone wall is crafted of a smaller, rougher to distinguish its presence indoors” and incorporates a wood bench that faces out across the gardens beyond. A team of 12 masons from the Azores Islands built the non-reinforced three foot thick stone walls forming the garden terraces using traditional construction methods that date back centuries and characterize Richardsons stone walls so typical of 19th century Boston.

The project received a 2003 American Institute of Architects New England Design Award, a 2002 Boston Society of Architects Design Citation and a 1999 Boston Society of Landscape Architects Unbuilt Honor Award, and has been published in the October 2005 issue of Architectural Record and the July 2000 issue of Landscape Architecture.

Boston, Massachusetts, United States