Bridging past to future.
From concept to reality, the original construction of the Myriad Botanical Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City spanned two decades. Planning for the gardens began in 1964, an official groundbreaking ceremony commenced in 1971, and the Crystal Bridge opened to the public in 1988. The resulting project yielded 15 acres of green space, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
“Providing green space in urban areas is a fundamental necessity to quality of life that offers peace and serenity, and a way to celebrate seasons,” said Maureen Heffernan, president and CEO of Park Management Company, which manages the Myriad Botanical Gardens Foundation.
While the exterior portions of the Gardens underwent a substantial renovation and upgrade in 2011, since its opening in 1988, there had been no significant changes to the Crystal Bridge. “The Crystal Bridge needed to be upgraded and strengthened, [and] had deteriorated due to its hot and humid environment,” Heffernan said. “Loose bricks and rusty pipes required replacement.”
In 2015, the planning and fundraising phase began for renovations, which had an estimated cost of $11 million. A significant portion of the nonprofit foundation’s funding comes from donations, grants and the Devon Energy tax increment financing fund.
Once the project was underway, a team assembled to meet the challenges of renovating and modernizing the Crystal Bridge. Murase Associates of Pennsylvania tackled the redesign challenges. Local architects ADG provided interior design, engineering, planning and program management services. Charles Sparks + Company redesigned the interior gift shop to be more contemporary and reflective of the conservatory’s aesthetics. Gecko Group of Pennsylvania, known for its award-winning designs in tourism, aquariums and museums, worked on the interpretive design.
Inspections and structural analysis were necessary before beginning the redesign phase.“Much of the interior structures were demolished and new ones created or strengthened,” Heffernan said. “Working with a top-notch team is key. Local architect team ADG and Lingo Construction Services helped address infrastructure issues.”
Structural components were not the only element in need of modernization, either; the Crystal Bridge needed an entirely new look and feel. “The structure is unique and iconic, and the inside needs to meet expectations,” Heffernan said. “Any attraction needs continual improvement.”
New additions include The Cloud Portal sculpture, which mimics upward growth and the misty atmosphere of the rainforest. “The waterfall was demolished, and the new one is larger, grander and quieter,” Heffernan said. “A second reflecting pool was also added at the bottom to showcase more water plants.”
Significant changes were made to the exhibit layouts to make them more educational and engaging. “New signage has been added, which provides information about the plants,” Heffernan said. “We want people to slow down and take their time to walk through the exhibit, learn about the plants and observe the variations and colors. Exhibits have also been reorganized and planted by classification. For example, there is a fruit section, spices and commodities such as coffee, rubber and cacao. New terraces have also been constructed.”
Visitor accessibility features were upgraded as part of the redesign process. “Accessibility changes included a new elevator at the north end of the conservatory, making it easier to access the new second-level north terrace and Oculus Room,” Heffernan said. “We added more seating and constructed smoother and wider pathways for wheelchairs and strollers.”
On Sept. 30, 2022, the newly redesigned Crystal Bridge was opened to the public. “Mayor Holt officiated by helping cut the ribbon of foliage to welcome the public back into the Crystal Bridge, which has been renamed the Inasmuch Foundation Crystal Bridge Conservatory,” Heffernan said. “Over 2,000 people visited in the first weekend, and many have become new members. Visitors remarked on the quality of the merchandise and how beautifully this new retail space complements the visitor experience.”
Quotes from renowned conservationists and notable figures are all over the newly redesigned conservatory, including one from Albert Einstein, which is inscribed around the round north-facing oculus window: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
To learn more about the conservatory and additional changes, visit myriadgardens.org.