THE BLOG

26
Oct
2015

Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center of Virginia: Engaging people is key to a building’s success

We design with the philosophy that engaging people in our buildings is key to a project’s success.  We think a lot about how to create opportunities for discovery, for collaboration, for a conversation with nature… Take for example, The Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center (LCEC).  We designed the roof as an vegetated garden/overlook to the Rivanna River.  This is where a visitor first arrives and the roof signals the building’s larger goals: to connect to the Lewis & Clark story, and to engage the visitor with nature.  The vegetated roof is to be planted with species gathered by the explorers on their journey west.  The overlook, with a replica of a ship in the foreground and the Rivanna in the background, recalls to the visitor that the exploration was carried out by river.  The building also teaches about water, how precious it is, how it is the source of life: the roof water is directed to a riverstone channel that flanks the stairs descending to the exhibit space.  Water is collected in a basin at the entry below and the visitor crosses a bridge to enter the building – again, references to Lewis & Clark’s river journey as well as modern concerns about the environment and the importance of water quality.  The building is designed to achieve LEED Silver, and its many sustainable features are teaching examples for visitors.  Best of all though is how active the center is with community activities.  The building teaches about the Lewis & Clark’s journey, about nature while serving as an ideal setting for the activities organized by LCEC.  It is gratifying to see our goals realized.  IMG_1463IMG_1478

05
Oct
2015

architects and community engagement

We believe in win-win solutions. Obstacles can be surmounted with creative thinking and a few skills. One area where architects can make a difference is in the public arena. An example: Using an design skills in 3D modeling, I was able to explore and propose a sewage tunnel that relocated a neighborhood sewage pumping station away from our neighborhood.

Here’s the story:

My neighborhood in Charlottesville, Virginia was faced with the threat of a much enlarged sewage pumping station (we already didn’t like the one we had much less the idea of one 4x it’s size). Engineers were paid to develop alternative options each of which had some impact on someone. No one could agree. The cheapest solution was to target the one in our neighborhood and without agreement, we had no doubt we’d see a new enlarged facility in our midst.

The neighborhood was frustrated with the options presented by engineers.  I decided to see if I could find an alternative option. Using a 3D sketch program (SketchUp), I developed a model of the surrounding area and introduced a flat plane at the level of the existing pumping station. With this datum established I could better visualize where the topography might accommodate a relocated station (while not an engineer, I made an educated guess that the new station would likely be at or around the same elevation of the existing one). What I discovered was that local sewage and water authority site was at around the same elevation as the pumping station, separated by a ridge. This was a lightbulb moment – I realized a tunnel might be a viable solution that everyone could embrace.

RWSA-OPTIONSA neighborhood up in arms can be a powerful force and the tunnel idea might not have found legs but for the energy put forward by the neighborhood — after all, the tunnel was more expensive than enlarging the existing pumping station.  The neighborhood’s activism rallied the support of the Charlottesville City Council.  The engineers liked the idea.  An agreement was reached.  Funding was approved.

Last week the tunnel boring machine arrived in our neighborhood having tunneled from the sewage treatment center to our neighborhood. It did take a village and the many skills of its inhabitants contributed to the implementation of a happy solution.   Architects do have a unique set of key problem-solving skills and the combination of public engagement combined with creative thinking and visualization skills all contributed to that finding of the win-win solution.