The Lower Colorado River Authority maintains a series of nature centers, including a small center in Matagorda, TX. A second, larger building is desired in the area to include conference space, exhibits, and offices for the nearby region. This 12,000 square foot nature center can function either as an enclosed center or as an open pavilion. Since the river is a fundamental portion of the mission, this building has been sited half upon land and half in water. The lower level includes decks, docks, and expendable program elements to accommodate the fifteen foot storm surge in the area. The upper level features the main spaces. All of these components are beneath a curved photovoltaic roof with integral gutters, which provides a substantial percentage of the electricity and rainwater needs of the building.
One can explore the docks on the lower level or proceed upstairs to the exhibit and conference spaces. The longest bar, spanning both over land and water, is the main exhibit space of the building. To accomodate the flexible needs of the center, sliding walls form both the exterior perimeter and interior subspaces for classroom needs. The bar along the entry includes the conference space and support facilities, while the terminal angled bar houses an observation deck for bird watching. This center is part of a larger development plan including the parking area and a nature trail for incorporating exhibits within the lagoons.
Form and Structure
The building uses a 20’x20′ modular grid in all bars of the program. The three programmatic bars form an outdoor courtyard space, which can also be used for conference proceedings. Roof level on the second floor is dictated by program and creates an overall umbrella-like canopy over the space. Construction details of this system continue the umbrella metaphor in creating a structural grid with separate components resisting gravity and uplift. The roof bends into two cores used to house rainwater collection and native aquatic life; in addition to their programmatic purpose, these cores are reinforced for shear to guard against hurricane force winds. The remaining structural elements of the building include a glulam frame and concrete pile foundation, whose continuous load path is indicated in the large-scale construction details.
Environmental Learning Center
The architecture of the building seeks not just to house conferences on environmental learning but to use the building itself as an instructional tool. To that end, all services are integrated and exposed, such as the use of the roof to channel rainwater into collection tanks. Walls in the building completely open up for natural ventilation, allowing the conditioning to occur without the use of electricity during the better weather seasons in the region. Integrated cool beams provide additional climate control when natural efforts are insufficient. Photovoltaic panels, LED lighting, and the use of stable ground and water temperatures in system design minimize the energy use of the building.