Imitating Nature

Imitating Nature

This iconic structure raises awareness for Denver Botanic Gardens’ important work in botanical and environmental research. Both form and skin of the building were inspired by natural phenomena.

In July 2013, Denver Botanic Gardens, an institution with a long tradition of commissioning cutting-edge architecture, invited selected architectural practices to submit proposals for a “Science Pyramid,”. The new structure was to provide an exhibition space for the institution’s conservation and research efforts, thereby highlighting the Gardens’ broader mission as a scientific research body.

Faced with the task of designing a transparent pyramid, as specified in the competition brief, the architects of the winning competition entry, BURKETTDESIGN, drew their inspiration from the geological processes causing the ragged rock formations of the nearby mountain ridges. The envelope of the structure was like-wise informed by a biological metaphor and features almost 500 dark gray, hexagonal Swisspearl panels, arranged in a honeycomb pattern and interspersed with thirty photo-voltaic collectors and multiple windows and skylights. Creating a continuous honeycomb skin around the structural framework proved difficult, particularly as the architects wished the envelope to function as a high-performance rain screen containing a ventilation gap between its five-inch insulation layer and the façade panels in order to reduce thermal gain. While this technology is well established for vertical surfaces, it is only the second such application as a roof system worldwide, and the first in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the design team invested considerable time and effort into researching suitable cladding systems, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that Swisspearl was the only manufacturer prepared to warranty its product for sloping surfaces.

Swisspearl offered an attachment solution for each of the myriad partial pieces, some of which were no larger than one inch by two inches, and its technicians used client-supplied CAD files to saw blade-cut full four-foot hexagonal shapes in factory conditions. More demanding were the numerous partial hexagons, which installers wearing mountain-climbing gear adjusted in the field to adapt to the building’s wide range of architectural elements.

True to its purpose as a showcase project for an institution concerned with research on environmental issues, the new Science Pyramid incorporates a number of eco-friendly measures, key among which is it its innovative and technologically advanced ventilated façade composed of sustainable, durable, and low-maintenance Swisspearl panels. Aesthetically, too, the Science Pyramid achieves its objectives. Working closely with structural engineers and manufacturers, the architects managed to transpose their ambitious design scheme into an iconic structure. Most importantly, the landmark, which opened to the public in September 2014, appears to fully succeed in drawing visitors’ attention to the scientific work of Denver Botanic Gardens—according to CEO Brian Vogt, “it’s drawing people in droves.”


As the architect, we were very concerned about the level variation between hexagonal cladding panels—the Swisspearl product made this concern vanish.

Barton Harris, principal-in-charge, BURKETTDESIGN


©Black Bike Productions , JC Buck
©Black Bike Productions , JC Buck
©Black Bike Productions , JC Buck
©Frank Ooms, Frank Ooms Photography
©Frank Ooms, Frank Ooms Photography
©Burkett Design


Key Facts

Science Pyramid, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver (CO), USA


1007 York Street, Denver


Denver Botanic Gardens


BURKETTDESIGN, Denver Barton Harris, Project Architect Rieko Ishiwata, Project Architect N. Ben Niamthet, Project Designer Structural engineer Studio NYL, The Skins Group Boulder (CO) Chris O‘Hara


JC Buck, Black Bike Productions, Denver
Frank Ooms, Frank Ooms Photography


Building period


General contractor
GH Phipps Construction Co., Greenwood Village (CO)


Façade construction
NDF Construction, Greenwood Village (CO)


Façade material


Source: Swisspearl Architecture Special Denver Botanic Gardens


PDF project sheet
Click here to download the project sheet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.