This project, an environmental research and visitors education facility for Joshua Tree National Park, was deeply engaged with the issue of creating architecture that is both site specific and carefully integrated with an area’s local ecology. Designing for a desert national park with limited established utilities presented a unique challenge to maximize passive sustainable systems. The building is oriented to minimize extensive glazed exposure along the south/southwestern face to prevent solar heat gain.
Architecturally speaking, the first and most significant spatial move of the project is the carving of a large ‘canyon’ into the hillside, using level changes, but no physical walls to separate different programs. Over this ‘canyon’ are a series of shelved skylights that permit indirect natural light to enter the space. Communal research lab workrooms, classrooms, mechanical areas, and an auditorium are all located on this datum. Circulation can follow two different paths. There is a meandering ramp that follows the length of the canyon. Visitors can also climb directly into the expansive great room/exhibit spaces on the second floor. The expansive roof system is the most prominent feature, and also facilitates a number of passive environmental systems. It provides shade from unwanted summer sun while allowing low winter sun to warm interior spaces from the south east facade. The roof also uses a wind scoop to bring prevailing winds into the large vaulted interior for ventilation, and allow hot rising air to escape creating a stack effect in the space. The project was placed into Autodesk Vasari for solar and wind studies that helped derive the building’s ultimate form.