Polly Hill Arboretum and Visitors’ Center

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

The new visitor center nestles into the existing woodlands of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard. The buildings were designed as simple shed forms which heighten the visitor’s relationship to the site. Outdoors, the complex layering of trellis, heavy timber frame, and perforated planes of the roofs mediate the natural light as do the trees above them.

Architectural elements such as a window seat and skylight expand the interior volume out past the building’s heavy timber perimeter frame, pushing the interior into the surrounding natural site. Frosted glass, slatted walls, extensive clerestory windows, and skylights all reinforce the parallels of the visual and physical experience of the interior with the experience of the forest’s interior on the other side of the walls. The skylight allows for the quality of light that one finds within the forest canopy. The wooden buildings are heavy timber Douglas fir construction, reminiscent of the old barns of New England.

The material palette of stone, Douglas fir, yellow cedar, and copper was selected primarily for its durability and graceful weathering. When it rains, the single pitch roofs divert the water into scuppers, which create two small waterfalls. Benches are placed so visitors can shelter themselves from the rain while enjoying the sound and view of the falling water.