Georgia Town Eyes LEED Silver for New Cultural Center

Georgia Town Eyes LEED Silver for New Cultural Center

Construction is beginning on the $15.6 million Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, a two-story, 50,000-square-foot educational facility. Designed utilizing locally harvested materials and numerous energy- and water-saving strategies, the GEHC is targeted for LEED silver-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The facility was planned, programmed, and designed by the Atlanta architecture firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent, which also is in charge of construction administration.

The GEHC will be a blend of indoor and outdoor classroom space, exterior landscapes and exhibits, a collection of permanent and rotating displays, and interactive and hands-on learning opportunities to teach K-12 and adult audiences about Gwinnett County and the state of Georgia’s environmental heritage.

Design Incorporates Native Materials

“One of our major design intentions was to knit the building into the landscape, and we addressed this in part by incorporating native materials into the design,” said Hank Houser, AIA, a LEED accredited professional who is Lord, Aeck & Sargent’s project manager for the GEHC. “For example, the building’s parallel east-to-west walls are made of Georgia granite, and instead of stopping at the building’s edge, they continue into the landscape. And inside the building, there are exposed trusses of Southern Yellow Pine every four feet throughout the upper level.

“We also designed a continuous glass band around all of the spaces above eight feet high so that visitors can see out to the trees,” Houser continued. “In all, the architecture is a working study of resource management and sets an example for intelligent use of current building technologies.”

Sustainable Design Strategies

According to Houser, the daylighting and water management strategies that the firm integrated into the Center’s design will result in a structure that reduces water and energy use by 50% and 35%, respectively.

Some of the most important features of the building and site resulting from those strategies include:
  • Water feature. The GEHC is designed to span a dry ravine in which a cascading water feature will function like a cooling tower and be an integral part of the building’s mechanical system. In lieu of using potable water, the water feature will use the non-potable but very clean reuse water leaving the nearby water treatment facility. The water feature will save an estimated one million gallons of potable water annually. Treatment facility reuse water also will be used for irrigation and for flushing toilets.

  • Green roof. A planted roof -- the first in Gwinnett County, according to Cannon -- will reduce storm water runoff and mitigate the heat island effect. The roof will be planted with drought-resistant, low-growing plants indigenous to Gwinnett, eliminating the need for irrigation.

  • Pervious paving, bio-swales, and wetlands. The use of pervious paving throughout the site will allow ground water recharge and minimize storm water runoff, which will reduce the impact on Gwinnett’s storm sewers and lessen the volume of surface runoff during flood conditions. Storm water runoff will also be directed to vegetated bio-swales and constructed wetlands that will help contain surface runoff on site. All plants on the site will be native to Gwinnett County as well as drought resistant.

  • Use and control of natural daylight to reduce energy costs. All public spaces will be lit with natural light; artificial light will be used only as needed. The building’s design includes several daylighting features to maximize natural light while minimizing the discomfort of glare. These include high windows with Southern overhangs, east- and west-facing glass with deep vertical shading devices, and clerestory windows that let natural light into the deepest interior spaces.
The building is sited on the grounds of the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center, a high-tech water treatment facility. More than 200 acres on the site have been preserved in their natural state for nature trails, outdoor exploration, and interpretation. The facility is scheduled to open in the fall of 2006.