“In all my travels around the world, the important decisions were made where people sat in a circle, facing each other as equals…” – Dan West, founder Heifer International
Make a difference…World hunger organization Heifer International’s community impact starts with giving one animal to one family, or “passing on the gift”. Like water drops generate ripples flowing outward from an impact point, the gift creates “concentric rings of influence” radiating through a village, allowing sustainable methods taught to the original family to be passed on to others as animal’s offspring are gifted. Our intent for their new Education Center, much like the headquarters completed three years ago, was to exemplify Heifer’s sustainable mission for educational purposes. Heifer could practice what it preaches.
Phase two of a master plan, Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects' design of the 17,000 sf Education Center contains exhibit galleries, a free market shop, cafe, and meeting space for educating the public on sustainable solutions for hunger. The project’s placement within a constructed wetland on a reclaimed Railroad brownfield demonstrates the tangible results of “smart” environmental development. The building’s gentle curve emanates from the master plan, a series of concentric rings expanding from a commons, rippling in layers of uses and meaning as a physical manifestation of Heifer’s mission: education comes through environmental connections. The site, the state’s largest brownfield recovery, was once bisected by a rail yard. Eleven masonry warehouses were crushed and used for fill, and 97% of materials were recycled. Taking advantage of the neighboring $150 million Presidential Library’s 30 acre park and river location, property edges are blurred creating a combined 60 acre green belt. Our modestly budgeted $7.5 million Education Center and existing $18 million headquarters step back from the Library like shy friends, inviting all to utilize park amenities.
Gravel-pave parking directs water to bioswales between parking bays. Vegetation naturally scrubs pollutants, addressing taking water from unclean to usable. Wetlands irrigate the site with no reliance on outside sources. An industrial wasteland is becoming a thriving ecosystem – ducks and other wildlife appeared in the wetland within the first three weeks, just steps from Heifer employees and visitors.
The ringed site’s ripple effect also initiated the Education Center’s layered planning. Researching how Heifer builds around the world uncovered a simple elegance in constructing just what is needed, leading to exposing all systems as part of an honest story. The roof structure hangs from a 2’ thick curved poured-in-place concrete wall, representing the barrier between the industrialized world and the world in which the majority of humans live. The wall can also one day be ground up and recycled. Floating lightly from this wall, a heavy timber structure is freed and separated by a continuous skylight, bathing the wall and reflecting natural light onto exhibits. The Exhibit Hall breaches the circular Commons -the World Circle- engaged much like a giant porch. Tree-like columns branch out, gently touching the locally sourced pine roof, visually extending a natural tree grove inside the building. A symbiotic relationship between man-made and nature is achieved. An inverted heavy timber roof (designed for a future green roof) directs rainwater to sculptural spillways on each end of the building. Crafted into the wall, the spillways create iconic symbols for environmental stewardship; water falling on the man-made starts the entire natural wetland process.
Energy saving strategies include using the existing Headquarters, a LEED Platinum building that saves 50% energy over the base building, as an energy source. Water collected on its roof (thus, the water tower) is used for cooling. The water bill runs $400.00 per month for two buildings totaling 115,000 sf. – an incredible example of stewardship. Most materials came from within 500 miles, with the entire glazing system constructed just across the street.
Maximizing sunlight, conserving rainwater and energy, and avoiding pollutants, the Education Center allows visitors to expand their knowledge of worldwide sustainable issues, and calls for all to work together as equals in a broader world circle.