Breathing Life

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, is a leading institution in the study and conservation of epiphytes. To showcase not only the plants but the research housed in their facility, Selby asked the Overland, OLIN, and Kimley Horn team to help them create an ambitious master plan that embodied the mission of the center like never before.


+5%

Net Positive Energy



600kW

Solar Array


Offsets 100%

of irrigation needs


200k

Gallons Rainwater Cistern


500k

Gallons storm water vault manages on-site runoff

Nature’s Tendrils
Epiphytes are, by nature, communal plants. They grow along the trunks of trees and other plants, but rather than stealing nutrients from their hosts, epiphytes absorb their nutrients from the air and environmental debris. Known for their delicate appearance, epiphytes like orchids and ferns create a mystical atmosphere in the canyons, cliffs, and forests where they thrive.
A Breath of Fresh Air
As ironic as it may seem, a botanical center presents a significant ecological challenge. To regulate the various growing environments requires climate control and irrigation around the clock. However, to honor the mission and research embedded in the gardens, the Overland team was determined to create a building that—like the plants showcased inside—contributed to the health and wholeness of the earth. Once built, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens will break new ground in sustainability. The project is on track to be the world’s first Certified Net Positive Energy botanical complex and will qualify as the world’s first Certified “Living Community,” a recognition of the campus’s salubrious connection to its surrounds. Additionally, the campus will house the world’s first Certified Net Positive Energy restaurant, providing spectacular panoramic views of Sarasota Bay and serving a menu featuring locally sourced ingredient—some of which will be grown on top of the buildings themselves.
Earth is Our First Teacher
To achieve the ambitious sustainability certifications, the design team delved deeply into the study of biomimicry, a sustainable design practice in which the built environment not only resembles the natural world but also behaves as such.

Biomimicry allowed the team to solve two of the biggest hurdles to sustainability. Reinforcing the identity of Selby, the team naturally looked to the epiphytes that thrive on site for inspiration—from how the organization of the building could be inspired by the anatomy of the plants to the way photovoltaics can extract all the energy that is needed from the sun. Mechanical systems also pull water from the air itself, much in the way the tiny hairs—called trichomes—across the skin of epiphytes also do.

Building upon the master plan’s imperative of growing the gardens, the buildings themselves will serve as armatures for plants that work in harmony with the architecture to help cool the buildings, filter air pollutants, and rainwater, and serve as part of the educational and interpretive experience for guests. Instead of traditional ducting for the HVAC system, chilled beams are used to mimic the epiphyte’s self-cooling mechanism, in which trichomes control not only temperature but humidity as well.

Irrigation of the Selby greenhouses requires 2.4 million gallons of water annually, another ecological hurdle to sustainability. The team designed an underground cistern, like an aquifer, to collect stormwater runoff and rain. A study of annual rainfall patterns in the area has led the team to predict 2.8 million gallons of water collected in the cistern, more than enough to cover the garden center’s needs.

The building had a human mandate as well. Like the plants they study, the research and programming staff at Selby are at their best when the ecosystem can function as one, interconnected whole. The disjointed campus kept some departments isolated, and made collaboration challenging. The cohesive master plan brings botanists, horticulturists, educators, administration, event staff, and even chefs into closer contact where ideas can cross-pollinate, furthering the mission of the institution and enriching the lives of staff and visitors alike.