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From the Director

Michael McKechnieBy building partnerships among diverse organizations, focusing on creative programming, and establishing the right priorities, Executive Director Michael McKechnie has managed the successful growth of four vital nonprofits and served on the governing boards of a number of research, fundraising and civic organizations where he has provided governance, financial, and strategic planning oversight.

Dear Friends,

Gondwana Design Competition Winner
From the Winning Entry: View from New Zealand Path.

Gondwana Design Competition Winner
From the Winning Entry: Arial Massing

Gondwana Design Competition Winner
From the Winning Entry: Interior view towards Australia Garden

The Botanical Garden has benefited from the work of many great designers over the last 60 years: Larry Halprin, Tito Patri, Thomas Church to name a few of that generation's greats. More recently Ron Lutsko's California Native Garden and (under way) the Chilean/Andean Cloud Forest Garden grace and present our collections so effectively. Stonemason Edwin Hamilton has made many contributions of his art to embellish the Library Terrace Garden, the Garden of Fragrance and the Rhododendron Garden with pavilions, whimsical walls and sturdy Gothic ramparts. Australian Bernard Trainor makes us feel as if we are really in his home country, and Denver architect Herb Schaal designed the elegant stone pergola that defines the Zellerbach Garden of Perennials. Designers Davis Dalbok and Tim O'Shea have brought mystery and exotic plant immersion to us in the newly renovated Ancient Plant Garden. They are about to do that again, on a larger scale, in the planned Southeast Asian Cloud Forest Garden.

All of these designers are well known and seasoned professionals. Each has added greatly to the style and grace of the Botanical Garden. So when it came time to design a tiny but highly significant new garden called Gondwana Circle, we cast about for a way to introduce yet another designer to the mix. Always budget conscious we asked ourselves, how do we get a design that we can afford, one that will resonate with donors and ultimately the public? My colleague, Brent Dennis, came up with the idea of a juried design competition. And that is just what we did.

First: Gondwana. It was one of the mega continents that along with Laurasia comprised almost the entire landmass of the Earth 200 million years ago. As the tectonic plates shifted over hundreds of millions of years, Gondwana morphed into what is now Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, much of Africa, Arabia and India. The piece of real estate we have to tell this story -- and how plants drifted with the dividing continent -- is only 30 feet in diameter. Hardly mega. Thus the 90 competitors who submitted designs had some really heavy lifting to do.

Our committee decided that the logistics to accomplish a first-rate competition were more than could be handled by volunteers and staff alone. Owing to a generous gift of seed-money we had some funds to bring in retired architect Bill Liskaam whose career has moved into managing such competitions. With Bill's able assistance we drafted a roadmap for the many steps required. Perhaps most notably, he helped us assemble a truly blue ribbon jury: Jennifer Bowles, a SFBGS trustee and landscape architect; Topher Delaney, environmental artist; Jean DeMouthe, California Academy of Sciences geologist; Mary Margaret Jones, landscape architect; Paul Licht, Director UC Botanical Garden; Peter Raven, President Missouri Botanical Garden; Patricia Raven, horticulturalist; Sandra Robins, educator at the Exploratorium; and Zahid Sardar, author and landscape design critic.

These nine eminently qualified jurors were presented with the criteria the committee had developed including the educational and design aims of the project. The afternoon they arrived we toured the site, had a working dinner, and met the next day to whittle down the 90 fascinating entries to a single winner. They also selected a second place and 5 honorable mention designs. First and second place received cash awards.

The winning entry was selected because it, first, met all the criteria we had established and, second, because the jury believed it was dramatic and evocative, elegant, and appropriate to the Botanical Garden. They felt it would be fun to move through, that its scale and playfulness would entice visitors to enter and learn the important concepts of plant development, and that it would be a wonderful place to congregate. The winning team, Michael Overby and Emma Fuller, are from New York where they are clearly up-and-coming young architects.

The winner and runner up designs will be on display for some time in the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture. Come in and take a look. As soon as we complete fundraising this design will be under construction. We believe the educational and design dimensions of the Botanical Garden will have had another significant contribution.

Warm best regards,


Michael McKechnie
Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society


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