Strong and substantial yet light and airy, a new structure at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens was inspired by nature—just as it should be.
The new welcome center is named LongHouse to both honor the project’s major donor Janet Long and pay homage to Native American and Scandinavian communal structures of the same name.
“The maple oak leaf inspired the roof’s curve and pulls in feelings of a tree canopy,” says Meg Ralph, Overland Park’s communications and media relations manager.
The idea to combine heavy steel and timber for the center’s frame was inspired by and modeled after structures in nature, “specifically the midrib structure in leaves,” according to Momenta, the architectural firm behind the design. “A central structural element supports secondary structures and freeform intersections,” much like the veins in a leaf support its structure. This also allows for walls of windows, letting in massive amounts of natural light and creating a space that feels as if you could be outdoors.
The modern stone building with metal and wood accents has a zinc-colored metal roof supported with warm-hued wood beams. When walking through the building, the architects want you to feel as if you are on a meandering path shaded by towering trees. “High ceilings and extended overhangs filter the light as it enters the building,” Momenta’s project plan states. Visitors are led along a gentle curve as they move through the building, not unlike the sinuous veins in a leaf.
The interior has been finished with polished concrete floors, and combinations of limestone, plaster, glass and wood have been used for the walls and ceiling. Set to open in September, this 21,000-square-foot visitors center will also house spaces for exhibits, events, a cafe and a gift shop, along with staff offices. The architects worked in conjunction with the landscape design firm Confluence.
Including the acquisition of twenty acres of land for the build, the project cost approximately $22 million, with $11 million coming from The Arts and Recreation Foundation of Overland Park. The foundation began fundraising for the project in 2016, with Long, a board member, personally donating around $4 million. The remaining funds came from Overland Park’s city coffers. The new center is the first part of a master plan for the gardens and is meant to welcome visitors. Eventually, city planners hope to add a great lawn, chapel and small outdoor theater.