The John J. Willaman Education Center at Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens

The John J. Willaman Center is like a giant tree house, extending high up into the tree canopy, while simultaneously looking down over the gardens.  It is a most spectacular garden sculpture, the form of which reinforces its identity and function. Thus, in so many ways The Center is the lens through which we understand and see into the gardens.   Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens is a garden for all seasons, and the architecture of this “building”, with its walls of windows facing the gardens and connecting with their natural splendor, allows visitors to fully enjoy each and every season from the inside, as well as out.

The new Education Center opened to the public in 2009.  (It is named after a prominent botanist from the University of Pennsylvania, John J. Willaman, who happened to be the maternal grandfather of one of our leading donors.)  Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens was closed for one year for the construction and expansion of our previously existing small building. For geographical, as well as financial practicalities, the old building was “cocooned” within the new structure.  As such, the design and construction of the Education Center comprised a project that is primarily characterized as a rehabilitation and addition to an existing building. The designer for the new building was Architect Cee Jay Frederick of Cee Jay Frederick Associates in West Chester, PA.

We asked Cee Jay to give us some insight into his initial design concepts for this project.  He said: ”Since such projects (rehabilitation and addition to an existing building) can often be a case of the tail ‘wagging the dog’, we had to find a way for the existing to be a part of the whole but subsidiary to what invariably must be characterized as the larger and more functionally important nature of the new Education and Visitor Center experience and program. Hence, the actual shape and organization of the overall building, both on the site and relative to the existing structure, is such that it makes its new identity the dominant focus of the arrival and experiential sequences, while still permitting all of the existing functions to continue effectively.”

At Jenkins, visitors often ask us if the architect was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. While Wright was probably not a direct influence, Cee Jay Frederick Associates is an interdisciplinary design firm,  and this is one of the most important underlying factors to the design of our Education Center. Cee Jay Frederick started out his education and professional career as a Landscape Architect. Hence, the designs coming from his firm always tend to be more objectively rational in nature versus totally conceptual, as the firm wants its buildings to not only be a part of the natural environment in which they exist, but to take most of the clues for their physical and aesthetic expression from the site on which they are to be built and its inherent environmental influences.  Says Cee Jay:  “To us, all buildings are really just walls in the greater landscape.”

It is apparent that the design intent for the John J. Willaman Education Center building was predicated upon it taking its rightful place among the trees, fitting in amongst them, akin to the placement of a “tree house”.  In fact, features like the building’s tree-branch form steel columns and the filtered canopy lighting effects provided by the extensive functional deployment of louvers reveal its hope to become, itself, one of the trees in the forest.

Cee Jay shed further light on his design intent by telling us “The Education/Visitor Center is at worst, or best as the case may be, more of a garden structure than a building, as it appears to be more fragmented and open, rather than a solid imposition on the landscape. Of particular importance in this regard is the extensive use of glass, which blurs the boundaries between building and landscape, reinforces the concept of an assemblage of landscape walls, and allows the visitor to feel a part of the Arboretum grounds, even when situated within the building’s confines. Further, the soaring rooflines and expressly high interior ceilings render the surrounding tree canopies as the ceiling of a much greater spatial experience.”

The building has the distinction of being LEED Gold Certified. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an internationally recognized green building certification system that measures how well a building performs in the areas of energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources, and overall sensitivity to environmental impacts. LEED certification is offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization of leaders and experts in the field of green building design.  LEED is a voluntary certification program, and can be applied to any type of building, from schools to office buildings to homes, at any stage in the life cycle of a building. LEED promotes a “whole building” approach to sustainability.

One of the environmentally fascinating features of the building is its geothermal heating and cooling system, which includes twelve 365 feet deep wells. Water is circulated through a loop configuration of plastic pipe, such that during the heating cycle, water circulates through an underground loop, extracting heat from the earth, which is at a constant temperature of 57 degrees Farenheit. The heat energy is transferred to the geothermal heat pump, which compresses the extracted heat at a higher temperature and ultimately delivers it to the building in the form of warm air through a normal duct system. For cooling, the process is simply reversed. Because the earth is much cooler than the air temperature on a hot day, the geothermal system removes heat from the building and deposits it into the ground. The fluid is cooled by the ground temperature and returned to the heat pump for cool air distribution in the building.  The ERV’s (Energy Recovery Ventilators) bring in fresh air, while recovering the energy (hot or cold temperature) from the pre-conditioned air inside the building.

The Center at Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens is open 365 days a year from 9am – 4pm; so, the public can come visit in every season and experience the vistas from our “tree house” looking over the acres of beautiful gardens and venture out to walk the paths for up-close enjoyment of our world class collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, as well as our perennial native wildflowers.  After all, It’s really all about the gardens!

CEE JAY FREDERICK received a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from Rutgers University, a Master of Landscape Architecture from The Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Drexel University. He is the principal designer in the firm of Cee Jay Frederick Associates (, Design and Planning Consultants, located in West Chester, PA.

“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”

 – Louis Henry Sullivan, Architect “Father of Modernism”  b. 1856  d. 1924


By Cee Jay Frederick & Janet Bauman