AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center
(Shangri La Botanical Gardens)

The Discovery Center Pavilion is shown in this photograph.
Photo credit: Hester + Hardaway Photography


  • Location: Orange, TX
  • Building type(s): Restaurant, Park, Interpretive Center, Retail
  • 80% new construction, 20% renovation
  • 17,600 ft2 (1,640 m2)
  • Project scope: 8 1-story buildings
  • Urban setting
  • Completed March 2008
  • Rating: U.S. Green Building Council LEED-NC, v.2/v.2.1--Level: Platinum

Located on 252 acres in the heart of Orange, Texas, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center serves primarily as an interpretive center for the site's native ecosystems—cypress and tupelo swamp, wooded uplands, and prairie lowlands—as well as a facility for study and research. A program of the Stark Foundation, Shangri La connects visitors of all ages with nature.

The nature center provides hands-on learning opportunities by means of an exhibit called the Nature Discovery Lab, a laboratory, and three outdoor classrooms located deep in the cypress swamp. The Orientation Center includes an exhibit hall, theater, interactive children's garden, classroom and exhibition greenhouses, and a water demonstration garden that shows how plants filter pollution from water. A café, garden store, volunteer center, and administrative spaces are also included.

In September 2005, at the beginning of construction, the Shangri La property sustained a direct hit from Hurricane Rita. Rather than conceding a setback, the team took advantage of the opportunity for salvaging fallen trees and incorporating them into the new facilities or harvesting them for other projects.

This project was chosen as an AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Project for 2009. It was submitted by Lake|Flato Architects in San Antonio, Texas. Additional project team members are listed on the "Process" screen.

Environmental Aspects

The project began with the restoration of the land, which had been closed to the public for 50 years. The primary goal was a plan for the facilities that balanced access with preservation of the site, which includes Adam's Bayou, a tupelo and cypress swamp, pine uplands, and prairie lowlands.

The architecture responds to both the manmade and natural environments of Shangri La. The visitor center, which surrounds a wetlands demonstration garden, is the gateway to the historic ornamental gardens. It takes its cues from the brick, glass, and steel greenhouses built in the early 1920s, which form one edge of the complex. Circulation is outdoors, often under wide canopies that protect from sun and rain. The structures in the natural areas—the nature discovery lab and pavilion, outdoor classrooms, bird blind, and boat house—were designed for minimal impact, floating above the land on helical pier foundations and powered by photovoltaic panels.

The project earned the first LEED for New Construction Platinum rating in the state of Texas and the Gulf Coast region.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by The Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, Corporation, nonprofit
  • Typically occupied by 12 people, 40 hours per person per week; and 900 visitors per week, 5 hours per visitor per week


Integrated team, Design charrette, Green specifications, Contracting, Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Operations and maintenance, Transportation benefits, Open space preservation, Wildlife habitat, Wetlands, Indigenous vegetation, Water harvesting, Efficient fixtures and appliances, Drought-tolerant landscaping, Massing and orientation, Glazing, HVAC, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, On-site renewable electricity, Adaptable design, Durability, Benign materials, Salvaged materials, Recycled materials, Local materials, C&D waste management, Occupant recycling, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Ventilation effectiveness, Thermal comfort, Low-emitting materials

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Last updated: 4/13/2009

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

For more information about the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects, contact AIA/COTE. For help on how to use this Web site, contact .

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