When Mithun set out to design
and build the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center, they
wanted to keep one thing in mind: their true clients.
In this case, the end-users were 4th and 5th graders, and
keeping the experience magical for the children
was a primary vision of creator and designer Debbi Brainerds.
During the early project programming phase it became
apparent that the flow of the children through
the site and buildings was an important part of how they would
interact with the learning center, says Bert Gregory,
AIA, principal-in-charge and design team leader for the project.
We called this the experiential timeline,
and it became a touchstone as we made choices during the design
Six Submissions to
the annual "What Makes It Green?" exhibit.
Such choices included keeping vehicles other than service or emergency
limited to a specified perimeter of the main site, so that the kids
would immediately be exposed to the forest environment of the 255-acre
site as they tote their gear in pull carts from a Welcome Shelter
to a Friendship Center for the duration of the four-day program.
Though the children were a primary factor in the design process,
Gregory explains, The greatest lesson brought into focus for
us was the importance of considering buildings as part of the sites
ecosystem. As a pre-pilot project for the U.S. Green Building
Councils LEED program (version 1.0), a detailed site
and resource analysis for master planning was used to locate campus
buildings to have minimal impact with sensitive areas on site, including
older, more mature forests and wetlands. These areas evolved into
what became designated as the Educational Core, where buildings
were off limits and trails and site structures were carefully planned
to access learning opportunities for the children.
Structural systems such as roof trusses, wood shear walls and concrete
slabs exposed on the interior eliminated the need for extra finish
materials, and 100 percent of interior trim and 50 percent exterior
siding used site-harvested trees that were cleared when siting the
buildings. Buildings feature 90 percent recycled content carpeting,
countertops made from soybeans and recycled yogurt containers, recycled
glass content tiles and other recycled or renewable materials, such
as bamboo, recycled content rubber and salvaged fir wood flooring.
In fact, over 75 percent of construction waste was recycled, providing
more learning opportunities for the students. An artist-made scale,
for example, was designed for children to weigh food waste during
the course of their visit, and computer monitoring of building water
and energy use used throughout the campus serves as another learning
Natural ventilation replaced air conditioning by using computer
modeling to locate window opening and operable skylights for maximum
through-ventilation. Low VOC-finishes, adhesives and sealants used
throughout the project also contribute to the fresh air provided
into all spaces, with the help of photovoltaic-powered fans.
Photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Learning Studio, which now
features a Sustainable Design classroom, use sunlight to power over
50 percent of lighting and electrical needs, including fans and
circulating pumps. Roof-mounted solar hot water heating panels also
provide over 50 percent of the demand for the Dining Hall and Visitor
A larger issue in the design and construction process was water.
Since there is no sewer system on south Bainbridge Island where
the site is located, it was important to figure out a way
to resolve this issue in the most environmentally way possible,
Gregory says. It was determined that the water should be treated
to a tertiary level prior to returning it into the groundwater.
The Puget Sound center has two biological systems for treating water
to this levela constructed wetland system and a series of
wetland cells to process and clean wastewater to a tertiary level.
The second of the two systems is a Living Machine, which
is a biological treatment system contained within a greenhouse.
Both systems provide very clean water, in fact, water so clean
that the last cell within our greenhouse will be an aquarium with
fish and other aquatic species, Gregory said.