Hilltop Arboretum Courtyard Learning Sanctuary

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The Hilltop Arboretum Courtyard was designed to celebrate the curiosity and ecological stewardship of Emory Smith and Dr. Robert Reich and further visitors’ understanding of regional Plains ecology. Working in collaboration with Lake|Flato, NBW envisioned the central court as an open gathering space with a grove of pond cypress (Taxus ascendens) that plays off of the building columns. The grove structures the space and provides a shaded gathering place for Hilltop visitors and guests of special events. To either side of the main courtyard space are sunken planting beds of mixed perennial and shrub borders of the Longleaf Pine Flatwoods. This plant community of the Southern Mixed Hardwood Forest is adapted to wetter ground and accommodates the drainage of the courtyard. It is through water collection, drainage, and irrigation that the design reveals a vernacular connection to the manipulation of natural hydrologic systems in Louisiana. After a rain event, water drains from the courtyard into sunken planting beds, subtly revealed at wooden crossing points along the paths. One cistern collects rainwater from the roof of the new building, providing irrigation to the courtyard plantings year-round. With this focus on horticulture and hydrology, the courtyard teaches environmental dynamics and explores regional ecologies, fostering a connection between people and the land.