Sunnylands Center & Gardens

Sustainability Statistics

LEED Gold Certified


  • The project redeveloped a degraded site and restored the ecological conditions while being mindful of the Sonoran Desert.
  • The gardens’ design share Leonore and Walter Annenberg’s love for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in landscape form. 
  • The project creates a habitat for threatened and endangered species, including cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, desert iguanas, monarch butterflies, hawks, and vermillion flycatchers.
  • A series of erosion control strategies were implemented, including geotextiles to stabilize the soils and plants for root stability.
  • A pre-design site assessment informed the soil strategy, allowing the project to create a soil management plan with protected zones, conserved soil, and amended soil.


  • 53,000 arid landscape plants were used including 70 different plant and tree species.
  • 617 trees were planted.
  • The seeds were locally sourced and adapted for the California climate.
  • Fertilizer and pesticide use was minimized.
  • Annual planting was avoided.
  • Plants are allowed to go from seed to flower life.
  • Low water usage planting was used on-site.
  • Mycorrhizal fungi was implemented in the soil mix to provide increased water and nutrient absorption for the planting. In turn the planting provides the fungi with necessary carbohydrates.


  • The project utilizes just 20% of the water allocation from Coachella Valley Water District.
  • The project uses 100% on-site stormwater retention.
  • High-efficiency capillary irrigation zones are independently controlled by soil and moisture censored monitors to reduce water use.
  • The user experiences stormwater features through garden paths which integrate grading, planting, water capture, and water storage.

Carbon, Energy + Air

  • Geothermic system with 96 wells, reaching 396 feet below the center’s Great Lawn, uses a closed-loop temperature transfer to heat and cool the center.
  • 300 clear and sunny days allows for solar energy capture in the photovoltaic fields.
  • The trees sequester 72,000 pounds of carbon annually, which offset 8.9 cars per year.**
  • The project uses regional material.
  • Vegetation was used to minimize energy by being placed around the building.
  • The project minimizes the users’ exposure to environmental tobacco smoke through prohibited smoking on-site.


  • The design sought to reduce the amount of waste produced by supporting sustainable material manufacturing, salvaging material used on-site, reusing material, and recycling end of project waste.  


  • The project created nine acres of desert gardens surrounding the Sunnylands Center and Gardens. This connects to part of a 200-acre estate run by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, a not-for-profit organization. The site is referred to as “The Camp David of the West.”
  • This project boasts a star list of visitors. Sunnylands was envisioned as a place for foreign dignitaries and diplomats to gather for summit meetings and retreats in a relaxed setting. Major events have been held at the center.
  • The project supports alternative modes of transportation, by providing buses during major events, preferred parking spaces for ride sharing, and electric vehicle parking.  
  • The project provides optimal site accessibility, safety, and wayfinding.
  • The center offers various educational programs, including garden walks, yoga classes, programs for families, a speaker series, and a rotating art exhibition.

* The tree average for water interception is 500 gallons. American’s use an average of 100 gallons of water per day (EPA’s water trivia facts)
** 120 pounds of CO2 per tree annually (This number is based on an average from the National Tree Benefits Calculator) One car produces an average of 8,320 pounds of CO2 per year. (The Code of Federal Regulations - 40 CFR 600.113)

Sunnylands Center & Gardens

Pioneering a new ecological aesthetic for arid landscapes in the southwest, Sunnylands Center & Gardens is a nine-acre desert jewel amid Rancho Mirage’s conventional, thirsty sprawl. The new Interpretive Center and Botanical Gardens celebrate the cultural legacy of publisher, diplomat, and philanthropist Walter Annenberg and his wife Lenore, whose adjacent 200-acre estate has long been a retreat for U.S. Presidents, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities. Working closely with Mrs. Annenberg, OJB created a collection of museum-quality garden spaces that invite discovery and reflection. 

Organic and free-flowing at the edges of the site, the lines of hardscape surfaces and planting beds take on a geometric precision adjacent to the Center. Located past a gracious entry drive and formal auto court, Frederick Fisher and Partners’ 15,000-SF LEED Gold-rated building houses exhibition space, a café, a theater, and a gift shop. The Center’s western windows frame a breathtaking view over an event terrace and lawn to the 10,000-foot-high San Jacinto Mountains beyond. To the right and left of the terrace, twin reflecting basins mirror the expansive desert sky, lower the ambient temperature, and fill the area with the relaxing sound of water. More than 1.25 miles of walking trails lead visitors past the circular event lawn, beneath flowering palo verde desert trees, to a labyrinth garden, a performance circle, and interpretive displays of native plants. 

The planting design features 53,000 hand-picked specimens from over 50 arid-landscape plant species chosen for their sculptural character, seasonal interest, and wildlife habitat value. Cutting-edge water efficiency measures throughout the site allow the garden to thrive using only 20% of its water allocation from the Coachella Valley Water District.

Rancho Mirage, CA
Size: 9-acres
Team: Frederick Fisher+Partners, CMS Collaborative HLB Lighting Design, Hillmann & Carr, MSA Consulting, Litwak Group, Reich + Petch (Interior Design)
LEED: Gold Certified
ASLA National Honor Award 2012; ASLA Texas Chapter Honor Award 2012; ASLA San Diego Chapter Award 2012; Architectural Foundation of Los Angeles (AFLA) Design Award