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Frederik Meijer Gardens

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects + Partners

Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States

April 2022


Tod Williams (Lead Designer), Billie Tsien (Lead Designer)


Progressive | AE (MEP Engineer, Structural Engineer, Civil Engineer, Landscape Architect), Fisher Marantz Stone Partners (Lighting Consultant), Jensen Hughes (Code Consultant), Owen Ames Kimball (Construction Manager), Jaume Plensa (Artist


Frederik Meijer Gardens


Michael Moran


The goal of the project was to attract a larger national audience and to raise the level of design to what is expected for a world class cultural institution. While the original assignment began with one building – a new welcome center – our holistic view of the Gardens as a campus led us to design much more.
We rethought the entry sequence, creating a continuous landscaped plaza that integrated accessible elements such as handicapped parking spaces, curb-less transitions for wheelchairs, and a gentle slope tying the central campus elements together. Additional amenities punctuate the plaza including a Concessions building serving the popular amphitheater, a zone of public picnic pavilions surrounded by seasonal gardens, and a procession under a canopy to the new Welcome Center.
Upon entering the Welcome Center visitors are greeted by an information desk and free entry to the “Garden Pavilion” – a serene and sublime space featuring giant light wells in the ceiling and an immersive sculpture by Jaume Plensa, “Utopia.” The entire sequence of entry stimulates the senses and blends landscape and art. The Welcome Center provides additional amenities to support the educational mission of Meijer, with a free library, additional bathrooms, coat room, multiple seating areas with uninterrupted views of the gardens, and ticket counters. The new campus serves the Grand Rapids community and extends the Gardens’ reach nationally and internationally. It welcomes everyone, and the architecture provides the framework for all to explore, learn, and form new memorable experiences.


Twenty years after the opening of the Meijer Sculpture Garden, Fred and Lena Meijer’s dream of giving back to the greater Grand Rapids community has achieved extraordinary success and rapid growth. However, such an arc of success in such a short frame of time exacted a toll. In order to serve this expanding audience, a new vision was needed for its land and buildings. Parking needed to be reorganized and improved, classrooms added with greater emphasis on education, and visitor’s services expanded.

The Garden’s success in attracting and maintaining its audience, paired with their ambitious list of new projects, meant that careful phasing of all work was critical. The Garden had to maintain the momentum of ongoing programs while inspiring visitors. The first design concern was how to tie together the many parts of the Garden into a coherent and understandable whole, and how to make a visitor’s center that both welcomed and amazed. The project needed to maintain that the gardens would be in operation throughout the phased construction. The design was to be executed in four distinct phases, to ensure continuous use of the beloved community campus.
After a pre-schematic design phase, we were able to identify additional programmatic needs that had not been accounted for initially (a new concessions building for the amphitheater, a picnic pavilion for groups and families, the overhaul of the site circulation system), as well as to structure all the programmatic elements in relationship to each other on the site.


The new architecture is assertive, yet quiet. The palette ties all the interior public spaces together, yet made unique by the introduction of accents that bring warmth and a sense of craft. The project as a whole relies on a restrained vocabulary of simple concrete and stone walls, as well as large canopies and overhangs, to delineate spaces, direct views, and define gardens. At times, a wall can just be a wall, but can also grow into a pavilion, a bench, or create a building. The buildings are clad in Echo Lake Granite – large, stone slabs showcase the natural variations and beauty of the material. The grey granite flooring ties to the color and range of the exterior plaza paving. The interior finishes were selected for warmth, comfort, and beauty. Natural materials line the walls and furniture areas, while wool custom carpets in the seating zones depict abstractions of plant life. Throughout each space, opportunities to go outdoors and be amidst the newly established English Perennial Garden extend offerings to the public and allow visitors to enjoy fresh air and protection from the elements.
The functions and uses are able to change. The plan of the new buildings follows an orthogonal nature allowing for easy orientation and clear directions. The buildings include comfortable surfaces that encourage people to walk and make any space their own as well as a variety of spaces for people to pause, rest and enjoy art or nature no matter the programming.

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