Situated on a former production site in a historic industrial region outside Chicago and once the largest steel producing region in the United States, the center’s location was primarily chosen because of its position as important resting stop for migratory birds. The Ford Calumet Environmental Center serves bird watchers and as educational facility, teaching about the regions environmental past, present, and future. The starting point of both the design and construction principles is the idea to reuse materials available through the previous industrial function of the site that are found at local scrapyards and salvage suppliers – mimicking the birds’ behavior of collecting material to create nests. In the main construction and appearance, this tactic leads to an irregular mix of column dimensions “grouped together like twigs and rammed into the ground at inclined angles to form the building’s bundled column structure”. The same principle is followed throughout the building, including the use of slag and glass from broken bottles as aggregate in the terrazzo floors. The large deck functions as a bird observation platform and as an outdoor classroom – screened with reclaimed rebar steel which is visible to the birds to ensure they do not collide with the glass. Supplementing the construction strategy, the building technology applies passive solar power and geothermal heat pumps to minimize energy use. Air will be exhausted through natural displacement ventilation and a biomass boiler fed by wood chips and roadside clippings will supplement additional heating and cooling needs.
Comment of the Holcim Awards jury North America
The jury acknowledges the maturity of the overall concept based on a fully integrated design, construction and technology principle. The surprising sourcing of the materials is a convincing strategy, perfectly matching the project, which possesses a dimension for repetition, at least as a principle for the awareness for resources. The careful approach to bird protection while encroaching into their habitat enables the protection program and is complimented by the educational capacity of the project.