Environmental Nature Center

Newport Beach, California

A living laboratory that teaches by example

The Environmental Nature Center (ENC) was the first LEED Platinum building in Orange County, directly aligning the design with the non-profit’s mission to provide environmental education through hands-on experience. The 9,000-square-foot interpretive center seeks to inspire and educate visitors by showcasing green strategies focused on ecological responsibility, sustainable practices and environmental education.

Leadership of the nonprofit, which had been operating out of trailers for 30 years, wanted a new home where they could increase community knowledge and appreciation of the natural world. But the budget was tight given the project’s size and ambitious sustainability goals.

The challenge was to develop a top-tier green building without breaking the bank, leading the design team to focus on cost-effective passive controls. They started by siting the building in a north-south orientation to best control solar heat gain glare. To reduce HVAC costs, LPA’s engineers designed the space for natural ventilation. Ocean breezes pass through low intake windows along the south; excess hot air rises up the sloped ceiling and exhales out high operable windows along the north. The steep-pitched roof accommodates a large photovoltaic (PV) array set at optimum angle for southern sun exposure.

The PV panels supply 100 percent of the ENC’s power. Other sustainable features include waterless urinals, dual-flush toilets and low-flow fixtures that reduce potable water by 15,000 gallons per year. Native, drought-tolerant plants eliminate the need for irrigation; and bioswales and rainwater harvesting techniques capture all stormwater runoff. The facility exceeds the California’s Title 24 requirements by 70 percent.

In addition to sustainability, the building design boosts the ENC’s visibility. Visitors are greeted by a 25-foot-high window wall that offers views into the interior. An attention-grabbing exposed wood structure shows off glulam beams that support a monumental roof plane. Strategically designed signage throughout the site educates visitors about the ENC’s design, construction and mission.

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