The Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG), a 385-acre living plant museum, engaged Wight to reinvent the arrival area in front of the existing Visitor Center into a dynamic welcome plaza for guests. Once work began, the vision was broadened to include a new picnic area, a maintenance area, and a landscaped circulation area.

Welcome Plaza

The Welcome Plaza provides intuitive wayfinding, amenities, and transaction areas that increase the level of guest service while extending the world class experience of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Previously a vehicle-centric drop-off, the new design creates a pedestrian-scale space for gathering information, paying for admission, or waiting for a loved one while providing an opportunity to extend the Garden’s programming, branding, and seasonal announcements. All new construction integrates with the existing architecture and landscape design.

Wight worked with the CBG to develop the project program as well as the requirements for the new queueing and transaction experience. The plaza and attendant buildings are designed, first and foremost, to supplement the guest experience, providing orientation for easy decision-making and to make the entry process simple and intuitive.

Picnic Pavilion

The visitor experience continues in a new picnic and rest area open to all visitors. The Picnic Glade is an inviting outdoor space used for family picnics, social gatherings, formal events, and the leisurely appreciation of various landmarks of the Chicago Botanic Garden while being outside of the admission paywall. The patio and pavilions are carefully situated to serve as an entry point from the adjacent Mary Mix McDonald Wood for those traveling by foot or bicycle. Seen from the Japanese Garden, the Glade was designed to be minimally invasive to the carefully calibrated views and compositions that are so integral to Japanese garden design. The new structures are laid out to provide a sun filled lawn for gathering while also avoiding the drip line of a 400-year-old native, white oak tree specimen that is a Garden favorite. The picnic pavilion roofs are perforated and backlit to evoke the feeling of the tree canopy of the adjacent forest preserve.

The pavilion area offers year-round respite providing shade on a hot day or a sunny area to warm up in the colder seasons. Serving as a transition between the forest of the Mary Mix McDonald woods and the formal landscape of the Chicago Botanic Garden, the picnic pavilion roofs are perforated and backlit to evoke the feeling of the tree canopy of the adjacent forest preserve. The patio is bordered by rain gardens that capture the runoff and enhance the natural setting. The area includes amenities such as restrooms, bike storage, and picnic lunch storage for visiting groups.

Photo Credit: Kendall McCaugherty

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