Last year, New Jersey held a competition to design a visitor center for their largest city, Newark. Over two hundred entries were submitted for the contest, which required the use of innovative sustainable features. One of the finalists was Brooklyn-based architecture firm, super interesting!, with their proposal “Engaging Ecology – Connecting Community,” which features a strong focus on the ties between the local environment and the surrounding community. The visitor center they envision includes a tidal marsh, a permanent exhibit on the history of Newark, a bioremediation system and would be built from reclaimed materials.

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While the other three final design proposals were also great, we liked super interesting!’s attention to the surrounding environment. They proposed new tidal marsh wetlands to allow visitors to connect with the river flowing out of the city, while also acting as an environmental barometer of sorts to gauge climate change. If sea levels rise as predicted, visitors can see the changes to the wetland habitat. The tidal marsh also acts as a natural bioremediation and filtration system for the runoff from nearby streets and parking lots before it hits the ocean.

The actual visitor’s center would be built from reclaimed materials like brick and wood, and built on a concrete plinth above the wetlands. A marsh courtyard would be situated in the center and visitors would actually be able to go down and touch the water rather than just viewing it from afar. Heating for the center would be provided by geothermal source radiant heat as well as solar thermal collectors, and cooling would be aided by natural ventilation cooled across the wetlands. Inside the center, rooms would be available for teaching and community events as well as to educate visitors on the history of the area.