The Rio Salado Audubon Center is more than just a pretty visitors center. It's actually part of a massive restoration project along the Rio Salado river corridor funded by the City of Phoenix and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Audubon Center, designed by Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio, serves as the focal point of the habitat restoration and immerses its visitors into the surrounding landscape and educating them on river ecosystems. Half of the center is powered by a rooftop solar system and an onsite waste-water recycling system for landscape irrigation, plus the center achieved a LEED Platinum certification.
Before the Audubon Center was there, the site was a brownfield, scarred and barren as a result of sand and gravel operations, landfill, automobile storage and construction staging. The large scale $100M restoration project funded by the City of Phoenix and the Army Corps of Engineers aimed to restore it to an ecologically-rich riparian area. Located in the multicultural heart of the city, the 8,000 sq ft center includes learning and exhibition areas, catering kitchen, staff & volunteer work areas, and a detached research library and meeting room that overlooks the edge of the wetland.
The facilities were designed to have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and to blend into the natural landscape. Long and low in an east/west orientation, the rusty metal building shuts itself off from the hot desert afternoon sun and opens up to the north and lots of natural light. Energy efficient systems and a smart monitoring systems reduce energy use by 50% and then a 26.4 kW rooftop solar system provides half of the building’s energy needs. Meanwhile an on-site waste water system treats up to 420,000 gallons annually and eliminates the city sewer connection all together. Water-efficient fixtures save precious water, while the waste water system provides irrigation for the 111,000 sq ft of planted native vegetation.
Landscaping for the center and surrounding areas required restoring over 75% of the brownfield site and volunteers planted over 180 trees. Before the center was built, only 40 species of birds were counted in the area and now with the new habitat, more than 200 species have been counted in the area. Visitors to the center can enjoy “habitat zones” that educate visitors on the various river habitats.
Images ©Bill Timmerman and Chris Brown