Lost and Found b y V a l G l i t s c h , F AIA
p r o j e c t Shangri c l i e n t Nelda
La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, Orange
C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation
a r c h i t e c t Lake|Flato
Architects in association with Jeffrey Carbo Land-
scape Architects and MESA Design Group d e s i g n t e a m Ted Flato, FAIA; Robert Harris, FAIA; Joseph Benjamin; German
Spillar; Jeffrey Carbo; Mike Lanaux, Jr.; Steven Noel; Paul Freeland; Tary Arterburn; Mike Konold c o n t r a c t o r The
c o n s u t l a n t s Boyken
International (project management); Raymond L.
Goodson, Jr., Inc. (structural); Henderson Engineers, Inc. (MEP); Archillume Lighting Design (lighting designer); Earthly Ideas LLC (LEED); Supersymmetry (commissioning); Dickensheets Design Associates (acoustic); Meridian Energy Systems, Inc. (solar); Introspec Restoration Technology (specifications); Rolf Jensen & Associates (life safety); Accessibility Design Associates (accessibility); Dean Runyan Associates (economic); Alan Plummer Associates (environmental); Andrew Merriell & Associates (interpretative planning/design); Hands On! Inc. (exhibits); fd2s (graphics); Linda Covit (artist/sculptor); Science Engineering (geotechnical); Phillip Beard, PE, Inc. (structural); Water Features by Greenscape (fountain); Laserna Consulting Engineers (electrical); Brandon J. Monceaux Consulting Engineers (civil); Bill Fontenot (native plants); Dr. Neil Odenwald (historical plants); Country Pines Nursery (azalea and camelia); Fittz & Shipman Inc. (land surveyors) p h o t o g r a h e r Hester
t e x a s
a r c h i t e c t
‘Shangri La’ conjures a dreamy utopia protected from the outside world. A much sought-after place of tranquility, ever-increasing wisdom, and beauty—the perfect paradise existing somewhere on this earth but hidden from sight. The movie-made-famous name, inspired by James Hilton’s 1933 Lost Horizon, is the heaven-on-earth place just waiting to be found. In 1942, wealthy lumberman and philanthropist Lutcher Stark began designing and constructing his own Shangri La on a 252-acre site along Adams Bayou, a cypress/tupelo swamp in Orange, at the far southeastern corner of Texas near its border with Louisiana. Working with a palette of color, view, and reflection, Stark described his nine-year labor of love as “designing with all the tools nature offered.” Wildlife populated the waters, forests, and grasslands adjacent to lush azalea and camellia gardens; and, by 1950, as national magazines gave the place widespread exposure, thousands of people were visiting Orange. Unfortunately, in 1958, a rogue snowstorm also visited the town, destroying and eventually closing the garden for nearly 50 years. Stark had lost heart, and nature began to take back the site. By 2002, the Nelda C. and H. J. Lutcher Stark Foundation decided to rebuild the botanical gardens and add a nature center. Following its mission to “mentor children of all ages to be kind to their world,” the foundation hired noted landscape architect Jeffrey Carbo, FASLA, of Alexandria, La., and terrestrial ecologist Michael Hoke, recipient of a presidential teaching award and founder of the Nature Classroom (an environmental education program in Orange), as the managing director. Supportive of an open programming process, the Stark Foundation allowed design discussions and site discoveries to inform the project’s scope, saying only that they wanted it to be “as green as possible.” Carbo researched Lutcher Stark’s history and his philosophy of art, particularly its connection to nature. He also studied Stark’s seemingly endless artifact collection, of which many pieces were eventually incorporated into the construction. As the magnitude of the effort and the educational possibilities revealed themselves, Carbo recommended a joint venture with Mesa Design Group in Dallas to take primary responsibility for the nature center while his firm took the lead on the botanical gardens. Master planning the site together for a year and a half, and recognizing the potential of a equally important architectural component, Carbo and Mesa suggested Lake/Flato Architects of San Antonio as an obvious addition to their team. Together, the three firms designed the reclamation of the site, formalized its use with an architecture of minimal environmental impact, and defined the unique hybrid—botanical garden/nature center.
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