Sunnylands Center & Gardens

CompanyThe Office of James Burnett
Lead DesignerJames Burnett
Design Team
PrizeSilver in Landscape Architecture / Gardens

Sunnylands Center & Gardens in Rancho Mirage, California is an extension of Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s desert retreat. Because of its desert location, sustainability figured prominently into the design. The project features regionally-appropriate plants, a restored desert habitat, high-efficiency capillary irrigation system, soil moisture monitoring, 100% on-site stormwater retention, geothermal wells, a photovoltaic array and an on- site green waste recycling program. The project has received LEED Gold Certification and uses approximately 20% of its water allocation from the Coachella Valley Water District. The project also proactively meets the requirements for the use of reclaimed water five years ahead of the implementation of Rancho Mirage’s citywide initiative. The design features a scheme that begins as an orderly, geometric composition adjacent to the Center and becomes progressively more free flowing as it moves to the desert meadows. Trees were positioned to ensure ample shade. Plantings were designed “in mass” with dozens of aloe, agave, and barrel cactus used to create large sweeps of color and texture. The entry drive meanders through rich, undulating desert plantings before culminating at a formal entry court anchored by specimen Sweet Acacia and a parking court featuring a grove of Hybrid Mesquite trees. A continuous terrace across the west side of the building extends to the landscape and accommodates events. Twin stainless steel fountains complement the architecture, mirror the sky, lower the ambient temperature and feature water sounds. A circular lawn is the central feature of the rear garden. Framed by a double row of ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verdes, its perimeter walk connects to private gardens that feature seating nooks, rich desert plantings and a labyrinth. Paths from the rear garden extend through a rich and varied botanical collection of desert plants, passing through the front garden, along the restored habitat and back to the Center.