The design of an unbuilt building is something the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects began honoring last year, recognizing that many inspired structures never make it beyond the conceptual stage.

One of the top winners this year is Perkins+Will‘s design of a garden education center at the Dallas Arboretum, a project the Arboretum hopes to build in the future. It would sit at the entrance of the new children’s garden and “support the Arboretum’s mission to educate the Dallas and north Texas youth as well as extending adult education efforts,” says Arboretum spokeswoman Terry Lendecker.

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Lake Highlands resident Ron Stelmarski, design director at Perkins+Will, found inspiration in the Arboretum’s figure eight loops around the park, as well as the opportunity to create a space that would travel through the four seasons and touch people in various stages of life.

“It was meant to be something of a non-building. We really let the landscape frame the structure rather than the architecture,” Stelmarski says. “Down here, there’s a lot of greater potential to blend the two,” notes the Chicago transplant.

The jury of world-renowned architects recognized this integration of landscape and architecture, and believed the project “showed a rich experiential way into the park and continuous circulation all organized around seasonal plantings.”

Stelmarski says it was designed so that people simply passing through on their way to the gardens would “see everything at once” and “get a quick glimpse,” while those navigating the entire figure-eight loop would go both into the ground and up in the sky “like you’re in a treehouse.”

Though Perkins+Will “presented a very strong team and vision,” another architectural team’s vision for the garden education center ultimately was chosen, says Arboretum spokeswoman Terry Lendecker. The Arboretum doesn’t yet have a timeline or funding for the project.

Perkins+Will’s design was one of four winners chosen from more than 40 entries. View all of the entries at the Dallas AIA website.