In the first half of this year, the National Arboretum in Canberra – officially inaugurated in February 2013 – welcomed more than 200,000 visitors.

After bush fires decimated bushland, a pine forest and a number of suburbs in Canberra in 2001, the Government of Canberra decided to build an Arboretum that would protect and showcase endangered species to ensure the survival of tree and plant species in case of natural disaster.

“The Arboretum has been a huge success since its opening. Over 40,000 visitors walk through the door of the spectacular Village Centre each month,” said the arboretum’s general manager, Jason Brown.

Brown said the 200,000th visitor received a prize, including a lunch for two in the Conservatory Restaurant.

“It is the visitors that help make the Arboretum such a great place, so this was an opportunity to say thank you,” he said in a media release.

National Arboretum Canberra

National Arboretum Canberra by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer and Taylor Cullity Lethlean.

“There are many things for people to experience at the Arboretum whether they be enjoying the panoramic views of the city, learning about the forests in the Village Centre’s interactive displays, enjoying the new Pod playground, taking a walk along the guided trails, getting tips on what plants to grow from ACTEW Water’s Discovery Garden or visiting the miniature forest of the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.”

The National Arboretum will soon be home to 100 forests and 100 gardens dedicated to protecting and showcasing endangered flora. At present, it features 90 forests, four of them 80 years old and standing in an area that has not been affected by bush fires.

National Arboretum Canberra

National Arboretum Canberra by Tonkin Zulaikha Greer

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer won an international design competition to build the project in 2005. Taylor Cullity Lethlean assisted them in master planning and landscape design.

The arboretum and visitor centre building were completed in 2012 and is sustainable. The visitor center showcases a huge variety of rare, endangered and symbolic plants from Australia and around the world.

“The heart of the building is its main vaulted space, which flexibly accommodates a range of functions, including exhibitions, functions, retail, the café and programmed activities. It focuses on the dramatic views southeast to Lake Burley Griffin and city of Canberra, and opens to the north and south to the sweep of the Event Terrace,” the architects said.

National Arboretum Canberra Arrival Point

The Village Centre is the main point of arrival for the National Arboretum Canberra.

The timber structure in the visitor centre combines low-impact design with forest-inspired architecture, while energy saving strategies have been incorporated to support the Arboretum’s mission of protecting the environment.

“The exterior of the building is a sculptural form in the rolling topography of the site, contrasting low stone-clad wings with a high arching roof clad in weathered zinc, the form of which is inspired by the fronds of the adjoining forest of Chilean Wine Palms,” the architects said.

Apart from the visitor centre’s educational spaces, the shop and the coffee bar, the 250-hectare site features a water-wise garden, picnic areas, a children’s playspace, roads and walking paths, interpretative signage, lookout points to the city and green gardens.