Botanical Garden Pavilion

Botanical Garden Pavilion

By Miyoko Ohtake
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, architect and University of Kentucky lecturer Mike McKay felt the pull to go down to the Big Easy to help with a task that was anything but easy: rebuilding the devastated city. He moved to Louisiana for two years to lead the architecture school's Knoa Studio, a program that tasked studios to develop designs for neighborhoods, restaurants, and the city transit system. McKay moved back to Kentucky in 2007 but his work there was far from finished. During the storm, many of the old cypress trees in City Park and its New Orleans Botanical Garden were uprooted and the gardens were decimated. McKay's uncle, Paul Soniat, was the botanical gardens director at the time and called McKay. A local woman had donated money to build a structure for volunteers, who were the main source of maintenance for the park after the storm, and they needed a design. With very little money, very generous material donors, and a modular system that incorporated the supplies, McKay created the New Orleans Botanical Garden Duplantier Volunteer Pavilion.

View our slideshow to see images and read the rest of the story.

The 1,000-square-foot pavilion was completed in 2009 as a volunteer structure and tool shed--though today its used far more by the public than initially anticipated. "The garden was wiped out after the storm," McKay recalls. "There was nothing, zero. Volunteers came in and replanted everything." Photo by Frank Doering.

The structure was carefully situated around the existing cypress trees, though it was a result of many uprooted during Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, Frank Vallot from Acadia Hardwoods came to the site--after Soniat sent an open invitation to local mills--and collected the trees. In exchange, he donated the cypress used in the pavilion's construction. The roof system was donated by Gallina and the polycarbonate wall by Extech. Photo by Frank Doering.

McKay devised a modular system of arches that would define the open-air structure. Using the donated cypress and aluminum, he created six wall-and-roof modules and slid them closer together or further apart to accomodate the existing trees and roots. "Because there are so many trees on the site, we had to negotiate a system in the initial design phase," McKay says. "When we were constructing the pavilion, if we hit a root, and we did, we could just move the modular without it affecting the overall design or construction." Photo by Frank Doering.

The front of the pavilion (to the right in the elevation) features three modulars positioned next to one another that house the storage space and sink area behind a polycarbonate wall that faces the public side of the site. The pavilion opens up in the back (to the left) for gatherings, seminars, and potting. Photo by Frank Doering.

"You don't even want to be in New Orleans in August with the air-conditioning on," McKay says. "The openness and shade of the pavilion fit well with the surroundings, though, and when a breeze comes through, you're fine."Photo by Frank Doering.

The only enclosed space of the pavilion is the freestanding storage area, where the volunteers keep their tools and potting supplies. McKay would have preferred using smaller aluminum, "but with free materials, you do what you can," he says. Photo by Frank Doering.

The interior also features a counter for potting supplies and a sink for washing off. Photo by Frank Doering.

The facade featuring the polycarbonate wall was meant to be the extent of the public side of the pavilion. It has, however, garnered great interest and is now used frequently by those besides the garden volunteers. "People wanted to have parties and lectures in it," McKay says. "It went from this little potting shed into a really beautiful pavilion that people can use for other things." Photo by Frank Doering.


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