At the turn of the last century, Lake Tahoe became a scenic holiday destination. The region has since become a year-round residential community as well as a popular recreational retreat for the roughly 11.5 million people living within a four-hour driving distance. As a result, traffic congestion and pollution have begun to threaten Tahoe’s natural resources and beauty. To encourage greater reliance on public transportation, the County of Placer commissioned us to design a new transit center in Tahoe City.
The idea of treading lightly on the land was our mantra and drove every design decision. We minimized the facility’s footprint by configuring the bus loop with passenger loading on both sides, with a site layout that incorporates existing trees and established walking and cycling paths. The stone used in the battered walls and columns comes from the Sierras, and the timber is local as well. To further relate to the natural setting, we wanted the roof to create a long, low horizon line among the tall trees; we wanted it to “float.” Shaped like a boat, with long wooden slats along the underside, the roof is supported by a few stone columns to allow views of the landscape to pass underneath. Overall, design complements the unique mountain character of the Lake Tahoe area in a way that is modern and iconic of transportation but also, unquestionably, of its place.
A primary goal of the transit center was to help the facility sustain its own operation by making use of natural resources — air, water (rain and snow), and sun — via passive strategies as well as active systems for environmental controls and water management. With its narrow floor plate, high performance insulated glazing, large operable windows and thermally massive walls, the transit center adapts easily to the seasons. The roof is designed to hold snow up to 250 pounds per foot, which is then melted, collected and reused for irrigation and toilet flushing.
Interpretative graphics tell the history of transportation in Tahoe. A series of bronze plaques explain sustainable design strategies, helping visitors to understand their connection to the natural environment.