Social and Educational AgendaThe North American Butterfly Association’s objective is to promote butterfly watching, studying, and research relating to the location of species and other factors affecting their diversity and survival. But underlying this mission is a strong desire to impart respect for the environment, an climate shifts through educational exhibits and outdoor gardens.The Visitor Pavilion is an efficient, highly economical structure that finds a clean modern vernacular under the Southwestern sun. As the initial centerpiece of what will be a larger complex of buildings and gardens, the Pavilion sets the material palette, the structural underpinning and overall tone for the park. The 10-year, Master Plan depicts buildings, open-air pavilions, and shade structures that offer a variety of programmatic spaces ranging from exhibition galleries and conference areas, to outdoor classrooms and service buildings for equipment or the propagation of plants. Nevertheless, it is ultimately the gardens and butterflies that are at the core of the experience.SiteThe Master Plan took an agrarian approach rather than an organic or pastoral one. Harkening back to Jefferson’s planning strategy for the open lands of the American west, the property is divided into “pixels,” or modules (22 x 22 feet). As resources become available, the site’s abused farmlands are to be replanted adhering to this grid. Overlaid on the grid are a series of zones that differentiate between uses, delineating public and private. This secondary layering establishes areas of service, parking, a berm (for dryer plantings and to buffer the parking), and buildings. In addition, water retention areas or bio swales are placed to strategically preserve rainwater.Architectural design and planning The Visitor Pavilion is a place of discrete shelter in an unforgiving climate, an integrated part of the landscape. Standing as a sculpturally abstract form, it is integral to the Master Plan. It is formed with a series of block walls that define spaces both inside and out, the same elements that form the landscape gardens.The construction program is minimal and reductive. With an unskilled local labor pool, we used materials that were familiar to first-time construction crews. A galvanized aluminum cornice glistens against the pale blue sky. The walls are built with an oversized (4” by 16”) Mexican white block, laid vertically over traditional wood frame/plywood cladding. The interior, saturated in “limelight”, is seen as a counterpoint. All interior surfaces including the epoxy floor, the timber ceiling and the walls are the same color. A sinuous configuration of display tables for exhibition and retail weaves through the orthogonal geometry. Polycarbonate panels are used to define office areas and a small café.Making it happenThis project evolved over an 8-year period during which time we worked with the owner on minor projects and outbuildings. What ultimately made the Visitor Pavilion possible was the construction strategy using a first-time contractor. A stunningly low cost of $130/sf was achieved. The local community supported our goals. By this summer, the building will be nestled into a field of wild flowers and grasses and the grid of smaller gardens will continue to emerge over time.What were you asked to do by the client?• Create a Master Plan for development of buildings and gardens for the next decade.• Based on the Master Plan, build a Visitor Pavilion as the first multi-purpose building.• Use local materials and labor to make an energy efficient, very economical building that can be enjoyed by the local community and a following of butterfly enthusiasts.What were the agreed upon goals of the project?• Create a place of refuge and gathering in a flat undifferentiated, desert-like landscape.• The Visitor Pavilion is the center or the Park’s activities and a flexible space with a focus to the outdoor gardens.• Find an abstract architectural expression that is derived from the southwestern vernacular. How did the completed project address these goals?• At the heart of our work is an aim to evoke the unique qualities of the local landscape in a tangible way.• The design is an efficient, highly economical structure that finds a new vernacular under the Southwestern sun.• The use of a reduced palette of local materials gives the building a connection to the earth making the difficult landscape more accommodating.How did you address the design problem(s)?• The main design problem was related to the desire to reduce costs to a minimum by using the local unskilled labor force. This required the use of traditional building systems. At the same time, the required architectural expression was future oriented, an abstraction in a field of gardens.• We worked with this client and the community for eight years. During this time, we built some smaller structures on the property and helped them to raise local financial support. Ultimately, what made this project possible was finding a building design, and technology that could be built by the labor force available under the supervision of a willing but inexperienced contractor.• We used a modular approach so that structural spans could be made with conventional “residential scale” materials. Mechanical systems are minimized by careful placement of glass, maximizing insulation values, and high albedo claddings and roofing.• A vibrant paint color unifies the experience. An economical approach to be sure, but when combined with areas of translucency (poly carbonate panels) and the white metal storefront system, it becomes very effective. Exhibition materials, retail and other changing elements will be displayed in this architectural framework.How does the architecture of your project affect the community?• Mission Texas is in the Rio Grande valley on the border of Mexico. The county is the third poorest in the country. There are issues of border violence and educational challenges.• While the Owner’s primary objective is to promote the enjoyment of butterfly watching and respect for nature, he has broader societal goals. Through educational exhibits and gardens, local residents and tourists alike on both sides of the US/Mexican border are shown the importance of these insects in the greater chain of environmental interactions, but ultimately people will gain respect for our environment as a whole and confront the difficult challenges of climate changes that lie ahead.• This park is a safe meeting ground where families can come to enjoy outdoor life and engage with the environment.The Welcome Center would not have been possible without the support of the local community. The entire local government backed the project, as it is an integral part of this poor county’s desire to have a strong eco-tourism market.