The Government Canyon Visitor Center by Lake|Flato Architects, An AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2007, floats in a field of native grasses and restored oaks at the mouth of the canyon, forming a gateway to the 8,600-acre Government Canyon State Natural Area , located in Bexar County outside of San Antonio, Texas.
The architects opted for an ecological approach for the project, distancing themselves from the convenient car-friendly concepts for natural parks. They designed their project that would have a minimal impact on the environment. That is particularly important for this site, since it borders the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, the only source of drinking water for the city of San Antonio. The design also demonstrates sustainable design water use practices by conserving water, collecting rainwater, minimizing run-off and contaminants, and reducing the use of ground water.
All Photographs courtesy of Chris Cooper Photography
Site Plan Courtesy of Lake|Flato Architects
All efforts were therefore exhorted in reducing the consumption of ground water and electricity, as well as minimizing the physical impact that the new facilities will have on the existing site. The center is therefore contained in light, low-maintenance structures designed to blend within their surroundings. This minimalist approach eliminates irrelevant construction, and reduces irrigated landscape. Beside the obvious ecological benefits, the design helps in lowering the initial cost of construction, the cost of operation as well as the maintenance requirements.
The project includes an exhibit hall, Texas State Park store, classrooms, offices, outdoor exhibit pavilion, amphitheatre, and interpretive trails. The visitors enter into the screened exhibit space. While the original program called for the exhibit space to be indoors, the architects preferred to design it as an outdoor space, shaded, naturally ventilated and sheltered from the cold winter winds.
Rainwater is collected from three building roofs into interconnected underground cisterns, through a gravity-based system coupled with solar-powered water pumps. It gets filtered and used as wastewater and for irrigation. The storm water that runs off from parking lots is also collected, filtered, and utilized for the landscape.
The canyon’s rich ranching history is expressed in the exposed pipe structure. The built pavilions make use of local and regional materials as well as technologies traditionally used in building cattle ranches. Walls built out of stone echo the historic fences that could be found on the site.
The center promotes the connection to nature through its integration in the environment. The visitors enjoy circulating around the project through an abundant of walkways, porches, benches and bike racks.
A comprehensive ecological analysis of the site was conducted in order minimize the impact of the project on the environment and to optimize the functionality of the center and the surrounding paths as an educational tool that teaches the visitors about the site and its ecosystem.
By adopting a sustainable design approach for the design. The center has achieved more than the requirements of the original program. It helped in raising awareness about land preservation as the visitors experience the benefits of an eco-friendly environment, as they get closer with nature.
Owner: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin
Architect: Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio
Structural Engineer: Architectural Engineers Collaborative, Austin
Engineering Software: RISA 3D
Fabricator: Ironhorse Iron Works, Inc., Lorena, Texas, AISC member
Erector: Moore Erection Company, Inc., Garden Ridge, Texas, AISC member, SEAA member
General Contractor: Tom Page & Company, Inc., San Antonio