The area south of Chicago has long been a vast patchwork of natural land, industry and working class neighborhoods. But the soon to be built Ford Calumet Environmental Center explores the city’s wildlife corridor by collecting the discarded materials across the region, like a nest, to create an education and observation center. Located within Hegewisch Marsh, a 130-acre wetland undergoing ecological restoration, the center is anticipated to host 100,000 visitors a year within a new, LEED Platinum facility. This site-sensitive design by Studio Gang is already being herald as a milestone in 21st century public architecture.
The design is a direct response to the existing environment. Using local salvaged metal, the center will have a large outdoor viewing area delineated by the rusting steel and reused slag will be used for the parking area. The result will be an ode to the industrial roots, but will function as a blind for animals — the steel will protect birds from flying into the large south facing windows. Studio Gang has even received the PETA award for its bird saving design on Aqua Tower.
Reclamation is also a central theme in the building’s operational systems. An advanced HVAC system will be incorporated to include ground-source heat and a biomass boiler. Earth tubes will pump in conditioned fresh air and a water catchment will help feed and keep the local natural environs clean. A living machine will be incorporated to process the sewer water, and to cap it off, a large solar array and green roof will cover the facility.
Not only with program striving to be carbon neutral, the finished design will be a superb demonstration of how the built environment can help us engage with the natural environment.