Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of AECCafe.com, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.
Red Rock Canton Visitor Center in Las Vegas, Nevada by Line and Space, LLC
January 28th, 2017 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: Line and Space, LLC
Within the Mojave Desert, the 200,000 acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area stands out as a place of wonder. The new Visitor Center serves as the gateway to the Conservation Area and includes a visitor arrival space, classroom with outdoor patio, gift shop, 300 seat amphitheater, shaded outdoor gathering areas and 15,400 square feet of exterior exhibit space.
Our goal is to encourage the 1 million patrons a year, to become stewards of the Mojave Desert. In lieu of traditional dioramas and videos, interactive exhibits are designed to engage visitors in lessons focused upon adjacent natural phenomena, which are accessible to the visitor along the 13-mile loop road.
The concept is to submerge the visitor into the relevant science, art, and culture that will enhance their experience in Red Rock Canyon; then, strongly encourage them to explore the real thing.
Design & Innovation
The Visitor Center’s architecture expresses environmental conservation, is responsive to climate and environment, and demonstrates appropriate desert design. The goal is that visitors will go away with a new understanding of resource conservation, buildings that respond appropriately to their environment, and energy conserving practices, products, and ideas that they can use in their personal lives.
The single idea with the greatest impact towards demonstrating resource conservation, is locating the majority of exhibits and circulation in sheltered outdoor pavilions. Of the 24,000 square feet of programmed space only 8,600 square feet is interior air-conditioned space. This innovative strategy eliminates 64% of air-conditioned interior space, and the resources and materials to construct and maintain it. It also presents the unique experience for the visitor, of being submerged in the landscape, with interpretation to guide and encourage the exploration of the surrounding Conservation Area.
The outdoor pavilions use passive solar strategies such as orientation and calculated roof overhangs to provide shade in the summer and warming sun in the winter. East and west exposures are minimized by masonry wing walls that also block the cold winter winds from the west. Low energy strategies such as evaporative cooling and fans engage during the hottest months of the year.
Thousands of people move to Las Vegas each year. It is a city of excess where many have diverse backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge, but few understand what it is to live in the desert. The Mojave Desert is a delicate place where extreme heat and little rain exaggerate the time it takes the land to recover from human disturbance. Educating this growing population on sustainable living in the desert is our priority.
The Visitor Center provides an experience which promotes community interaction and instills in individuals a sense of personal responsibility for their land’s well-being. The entry plaza, outdoor amphitheater and exhibits all bring people together around a common environmental interest. The ecological design elements of the facility are visibly expressed and most offer tactile interaction aimed to educate visitors on the importance of resource conservation. The focus is on giving visitors new insight into simple strategies that can be implemented in their own community to reduce dependence on non-renewable resources.
Existing parking areas have been utilized. No new parking capacity has been added to the site. Carpool, bus tour, and alternative fuel vehicle parking space has been made available for groups coming from nearby Las Vegas and bike racks are provided for the many visitors who ride to the site from surrounding communities.
Land Use & Site Ecology
The architect and client collaborated to re-think the program and relocate exhibit space and its circulation (originally programmed as interior air-conditioned space) to the outdoors. This offers the opportunity for the existing landscape itself to become an exhibit and for the architecture to demonstrate creative solutions that provide comfortable outdoor spaces within a harsh environment.
Located adjacent to the original Visitor Center built in 1977 (which has been adaptively reused to house the new Center’s administrative functions), the new facility sits along a highly impacted ridgeline with panoramic views of Conservation Area. Developing this site eliminates impact to undisturbed native habitats and allows the new Center to utilize existing parking lots and roads. Earthwork is accomplished with cut and fill and no additional material has been brought to the site.
Stormwater management systems and the integration of bioswales and natural habitats into the outdoor exhibit areas help to further mitigate impact to the delicate ecosystems. Additionally, existing specimen plants were excavated and stored during construction then replanted in the natural habitats and disturbed areas, helping revive the delicate ecosystem. These features, along with interpretation on the elements that shaped the Conservation Area form the basis for an interpretive, educational component running throughout the project.
The building’s bioclimatic design is a response to the local desert climate and an extensive site analysis which provided the framework for maximizing comfort and efficiency through passive design strategies. Sited along a ridge that offers unparalleled views of the surrounding Conservation Area, the Visitor Center is oriented on an east/west axis to minimize exposure to the low summer morning and evening sun. By burrowing into the ridge the exhibit areas are insulated and shielded from winter winds.
Solar heat gain is controlled with broad overhangs, which in addition to shading the structures from the summer sun, extend the usability of outdoor spaces and create zones of thermal and visual transition. The stacked roof planes allow daylight into the main spaces through a clerestory ribbon window and provide the collection plane for harvesting over 15,000 gallons of rainwater and snow melt (used for interpretive exhibits and landscape irrigation). A transpired solar wall, developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) provides heat for the facilities restrooms using minimal energy. As outside air is drawn through the collector’s perforated metal skin, its temperature increases by as much as 40°F. The heated air flows to the top of the wall where it is then distributed to the restroom interiors and stored in the interior high mass walls.
Measure 5: Light & Air
A strong indoor/outdoor connection is achieved throughout the Visitor Center. Eyes and skin are given a moment to adjust as visitors move into the Arrival Building where broad overhangs with skyholes (unglazed openings in the exterior roof plane), create a transition space between the hot, bright exterior and the cool, shaded interior. Natural light is provided to 100% of the normally occupied interior areas through an open plan, north and south windows, and a clerestory ribbon window. Interior lighting utilizes low ambient and task-based lighting that is controlled by sensors to turn off lights when people aren’t using the space or when daylight is sufficient.
The real connections to light, air, and the outdoors begin as users are introduced to the exhibits, nearly all of which are located within tempered exterior microclimates, not air-conditioned interior space. Oriented to provide the passive solar benefits of summer shade and winter sun, the exhibit spaces also utilize wing walls that block the low summer morning and evening sun, as well as cold winter winds from the west. Nearly half of the outdoor exhibit pavilions utilize earth integration to reduce the visual impact of the Visitor Center on the environment and provide well-regulated microclimates.
Rainwater and snowmelt is collected from the 16,000 square foot roof and stored for use in interpretive elements and landscape irrigation. Stormwater management is further enhanced through the integration of bioswales and pervious surfaces such as decomposed granite which is used throughout the exterior exhibits. French drains are also utilized on site to collect water that drains from hardscape surfaces and direct it to the surrounding vegetation. All wastewater from drinking fountains and HVAC condensate is also directed to landscaping. New native drought tolerant trees have been planted and within five years will shade a minimum of 30% of non-roof impervious surface. A high efficiency drip irrigation system using water harvested from the roof has been used to irrigate these trees for the first year of establishment, and has now been turned off.
Waterless urinals, dual flush valves at all toilets and low flow fixtures for sinks and showers further reduce water use on the interior of the building. A recirculating waste water system is designed for future integration into the project to replace an existing septic system, treating reclaimed water for reuse in flushing toilets.
Energy Flows & Energy Future
The idea with the highest impact to energy reduction is that the majority of exhibits and circulation are located in passive/active tempered exterior areas instead of conventionally air-conditioned interior space (a 64% reduction in floor area and conditioned volume of building). Integrated into the exhibits, the passive/active microclimates use passive solar design, earth sheltering, evaporative cooling and low energy fans to enhance the comfort of visitors while using minimal energy.
Other energy saving features utilize the sites 300 days of sun a year. A transpired solar collector developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) provides heat to the facility’s restrooms using minimal energy and eliminating the need for mechanical systems in this area. A 55kW photovoltaic array and solar hot water system convert the regions intense desert sun into free energy, providing more than 40% of the facilities required annual energy. The solar hot water system provides over 95% of all hot water needs to the site and is also used to help temper air for the mechanical system.
Deep overhangs protect interior spaces from direct solar gain and at entry/exits revolving glass doors are used to reduce conditioned air loss by up to 8x verses a conventional swinging door.
Materials & Construction
Natural materials were chosen for their lasting durability and low-maintenance. These products were also favorable because they could be found locally and would minimize the resources used for transportation into the region.
Concrete masonry makes up the majority of the building’s walls and visually helps the buildings grow from the site. Center-scored, split-face concrete masonry was selected for its ability to be both structure and final finish (in other words there is no substrate requiring a layer of additional material).
To promote recycling during construction, a waste management plan was implemented and resulted in the diversion of more than 80% of construction waste from landfills. Additionally, by cost, 46% of materials used at the facility contained significant amounts of post-consumer and post-industrial content, and 55% of manufactured materials and 92% of harvested materials were sources within 500 miles of the project site.
Now open to the public, the facility also implements an ongoing recycling program for staff and patrons which includes separation and storage areas for paper, cardboard, glass, plastics and metals.
Long Life, Loose Fit
The new Visitor Center replaces an outdated facility that after 28 years, even with numerous upgrades and additions, no longer provides for the needs of both staff and visitors. In lieu of demolishing the outdated facility, it was adaptively reused to house the facilities administrative services. This reuse allowed the new Visitor Center’s program and footprint to be reduced, saving time and resources required for new construction.
The new Visitor Center uses concrete masonry, steel, and glass for their durability, low maintenance, regional availability, and ability to be recycled. These natural materials are expressed with minimal finishing, exposing the natural beauty of the material and connecting the building to its surroundings. The ample roof overhangs protect the building’s shell, keeping water off the enclosure which extends the life of the project.
The project uses an open floor plan that can accommodate the variety of events the Visitor Center hosts. Designed for flexibility, the open plan can be used for temporary exhibits, and special presentations hosted by the Visitor Center. A classroom with an outdoor patio is used when schools or groups visit the facility to perform experiments that relate to the surrounding ecosystem.
Collective Wisdom and Feedback Loops
Our process begins with an in-depth site analysis that gives the proper cues to mold a design. The client, staff, and community were then asked to participate in a weeklong programming workshop to define the needs and wants for the new facility. The information gathered from these sources is used to create a comprehensive programming document that becomes the framework for evaluating the success of the architecture throughout the design process. Computer modeling is used to ensure the bioclimatic solution of the design such as orientation, overhangs and window placement performs at the highest efficiency possible.
Throughout the process the design team and consultants had numerous reviews with the client. On site commissioning helped the client to understand the features of the building and how they work, and confirmed that systems were in working order and performing properly per design guidelines. Energy monitoring is ongoing at the Visitor Center and can be monitored either remotely or locally. In addition, visitors can access special touch screen monitors that provide interpretation on the effects of weather and seasonal changes on the energy output of the 60kW photovoltaic array.
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