Last spring I was fortunate to visit Zion National Park and besides the wonderful natural scenery I was also captivated by their main visitors center.
Completed in 2000, and designed by National Park Service architects located out of the Denver Service Center, the building nestles into its gorgeous environment and becomes a part of the regional ecology better than most any other building I have seen.
* Keeping as much of the existing landscape as possible. This results in more dispersed programmatic functions which has the secondary effect of allowing large numbers of visitors to occupy the center without creating a crowded feeling. You don’t feel rushed to get through, but rather are given the time to learn and explore.
* Mixing of programmatic functions, information, signage both indoors and into the landscape. What better way to teach visitors about the park landscape than to allow them to directly interact with it while reading and learning, rather than looking only at displays in an otherwise enclosed indoor space.
* A major feature in the landscape is the use of evaporative cooling via streams that intertwine through the visitors center and associated parking lots. The low humidity, hot summer climate makes evaporative cooling a perfect choice to keep the micro-climate moderated.
* Evaporative cooling comes into play in a major way in the buildings themselves. Large cooling towers are a major and pronounced feature. They draw air in through the top and as it meets water, it cools and drops down the tower exiting out the vents at the bottom. The towers are positioned in the building strategically to allow the towers to vent both to the indoor space and the outdoor courtyards. Credit to the designers here for making them a major feature rather than trying to conceal them behind other parts of the building. The vents of the towers are able to be closed when, during cold or cool weather they are not needed.
* The Zion canyon is not always hot, so for those cold winter days, the architects incorporated south facing trombe walls. These walls absorb daytime heat and slowly bleed off that heat to the interior spaces through the afternoon and into the night.
Also incorporated into the design are other great features:
* Ample amounts of natural daylighting (aka, windows), which allows views out to the beautiful landscape and also reduce electricity consumption through less artificial lighting.
* Significant use of local natural materials. The stone and wood can’t help but evoke and compliment the natural surroundings. The building is not there to draw your attention away from the landscape, but to compliment it.
* Rooftop mounted photovoltaic panel system. This system supplies energy needed to run the minimal amount of electric lighting and control systems, further reducing the demand on the traditional grid supply system.
For more information:
See this pamphlet produced by the DOE NREL. DOE Brochure