This new environmental center, located on the site of one of the oldest watershed associations in the country, has three goals. It provides a headquarters for the administration and research staff of the organization; introduces the environmental agenda of the watershed to visitors and students with particular emphasis on water management strategies; and demonstrates sustainable building and site strategies that are replicable and innovative.
The scheme preserves and extends an existing house that served as a small nature center. The L-shaped building design frames a courtyard that reorganizes entry to the site and the visitor experience. The building’s intention is to dynamically interweave the surrounding landscape of gardens, outdoor exhibits, amphitheater, butterfly house and trailheads. The main entry pavilion, approached from a central outdoor garden court, is a glass walled exhibition space with visitor services that gives access to offices, interactive exhibition gallery, laboratory, and educational spaces. A mesh enclosed butterfly house, chrysalis-like in form, helps define the entry to the trail-heads.
Informational displays focus on the hydrological cycle and its impact on humans and the environment, sustainable strategies for building, and the flora and fauna of the site.
The building, LEED platinum certified by the USGBC, provides onsite power generation through a 64 KW solar voltaic array that meets annual energy requirements. The geothermal heat pump system does not use fossil fuel and is supplemented by an evacuated solar tube system that provides domestic hot water. Demand control ventilation and operable windows provide natural ventilation. Special consideration had been given to natural lighting in place of electric lighting, with roof monitors providing reflected light into significant program spaces. A high performance envelope with green roof, high U-value insulation, and building orientation minimizes energy requirements.
The project’s goal of featuring the water cycle meant that special attention had to be given to every drop of water used in the facility. Thus, the 44 inches of annual rainfall has to be managed with a variety of demonstrable strategies including green roof retention, a collector and cascade roof structure that recharges through a rain garden, rain barrels, cistern for greywater use, an open loop geothermal system and an innovative constructed wetland system that features tertiary effluent treatment through natural processes. The water use is monitored and data made available in real time to visitors and students. Site and building exhibits feature water use strategies as part of the educational program.
Site strategies included a reduction of lawn area, introduction of meadow and native species with no irrigation requirements, new bioswales in existing parking and provision for alternative transportation modes. The building materials are extensively composed of recycled and sustainably produced products, with recycled steel, exhibit cases and casework, FSC cypress, cotton insulation, and acoustic treatment.