Wyoming isn't typically thought of as a leader in green design or renewable energy; these days, the sparsely-populated state is more closely associated with coal production. But a new welcome center along Interstate 25 in Southeast Wyoming, which was designed by Denver-based AndersonMasonDale Architects, could change that. The new rammed-earth facility, which opened in autumn 2012, is one of the greenest rest areas in the country, and with several interactive installations and displays, it seeks to inform weary travelers about sustainable architecture and renewable energy systems.
Unlike most welcome centers and rest areas, the new Southeast Wyoming Welcome Center really encourages visitors to get out of their cars and stretch their legs. The entire site covers more than 26 acres and it features more than one mile of walking trails. The grounds contain several cleansing wetlands that are intended to collect and clean runoff from Interstate 25.
But the main attraction is the new 27,000-square-foot building, which is made from rammed earth. To emphasize the building technique, the walls of the welcome center are striped to represent cross-sections of the earth and the layers of time that it took to build it. Rammed earth is considered a sustainable building technique uses a readily-available resource (soil), and it minimizes the need to use wood or quarry stone.
The building is powered by a variety of renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal. The building has both roof-mounted solar panels, as well as wall-mounted glass panels, which serve the dual function of shading the building and producing 3 kW of power. On the south side of the building there are five wind turbines, which harness the power of the wind, which rips at an average speed of 12 mph. Based on that wind speed, the wind turbines can supply as much as 29 percent of the building’s annual energy needs. Additionally, the building features a geothermal exchange system for heating and cooling, with 60,000 linear feet of coiled piping under the southern landform.
Inside, the main attraction is “Dee,” a life-size cast of a Columbian Mammoth that is similar to the one found at the Tate Geological Museum in Casper. Other displays provide information about renewable energy, informing visitors about emerging technologies. A window near the restrooms looks out on part of the wildflower green roof system, which helps to keep the building cool in the summer. Additionally, wood paneling that was made from recycled snow fences is on display in the reception area and on parts of the exterior.