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Sustainable Futures at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

  • MSR Architecture
    Digital rendering of the new learning center at the gardens.

Posted: 12:48PM December 11th, 2017 | Comments

Big changes are in the works for Olbrich, our local botanical gardens. They are currently working on their first expansion - a more efficient production greenhouse to give them more space to grow plants for the outdoor gardens, and a new learning center. In line with Olbrich’s sustainability mission, the architects are considering efficiency and the environment in every step of this expansion.


Sustainability is not a new concept for the gardens. They are a graduate of the 2016 MPower program and already employ many green practices. They continually seek out non-toxic pest management, collect rainwater in rain barrels, and compost. They even design the garden itself mindfully, planting Midwest-hardy, disease/pest-resistant and drought-tolerant plants that require less maintenance than others. Just this past summer the gardens completed a solar water heating system that is expected to reduce their natural gas use by 50%. You can read more about Olbrich’s current sustainable practices here, and their solar water heater project here.


With the new expansion Olbrich is taking their sustainability plans to the next level. They are working with Focus on Energy to install solar PV panels to power their new learning center. The building’s design aims to provide the maximum amount of natural light, which means less power will be used for lighting. In addition, the windows will allow for more control over the building’s temperature, so less energy will be needed for heating and cooling. Building designs like these are  of course great for energy use, but also have shown to improve mood, comfort, and productivity of their users.


The new buildings will also have benefits beyond energy savings. The architects are making a point to choose materials that have recycled content, low impact to human health, and a long useful life. Considerations like these will not only give the buildings a smaller environmental impact, but also ensure the buildings usability for years to come.


The gardens’ rainwater capturing system is evolving past simple rain barrels. The rain that lands on site flows into Starkweather Creek which flows into Lake Monona, and because the surrounding area contains mostly buildings and streets that water is largely unfiltered. Olbrich will be capturing rainwater and filtering it. This system will also be used to teach visitors about how the water cycle works.


Olbrich serves as a model for how other gardens, and truly all businesses, can adopt the triple bottom line system of people, planet, and profit into their decision-making processes and development plans. This expansion will be favorable for the people that use the buildings, have a low impact on the planet, and aid in the garden’s profitability for the future.



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