The Interpretive Center and its related trails represents a gift of an 1,100 acre inholding of land on the shores of Phelps Lake from Laurance S. Rockefeller to the National Park Service, to benefit and educate the public. Because this project tells the story of environmental stewardship and conservation, the client wanted a "quiet" building designed to fit gently into the landscape and encourage the contemplation of nature.
The 7,000-square-foot building is self-guiding, with the goal of awakening the senses so that visitors may gain a heightened appreciation of the surrounding landscape. More like a chapel than a visitors center, the L-shaped, rectilinear order of the building curves to an apse-like form at it south end. Here, vertical wood slats reminiscent of old barns with gaps between boards, bring narrow slits of light into the chapel-like space, suggesting the spiritual power of nature, an experience amplified by a dramatic audio soundscape.
Throughout the building, an exploration of the senses guides the program. Visitors come into contact with multimedia presentations from video to photographic installations, and the design incorporates such elements as a textured touch-rail, where objects such as pine cones and leaves are embedded for visitors to touch.
In both medium and message the building advances environmental responsibility, with sustainable materials and methods of paramount importance in design, from the building itself, to every piece of furniture (also designed by Carney Architects). The building has been certified LEED-Platinum by the US Green Building Council and is the first LEED-Platinum building in the National Park Service and in the state.