The underlying design goal was to create a carbon neutral building with high-tech power that is housed within a humble gable form and detailed with the agricultural aesthetic of warm earth tones. The thoughtfully designed structure is intended to stand the test of time and become a part of Aspen’s history for generations to come.
The first design challenge was where on the site to build the new learning center. The existing site plan was dynamic, yet underutilized. The team carefully evaluated the eight agricultural structures and paddocks to understand their fuctions in order to consolidate and improve visitor circulation. The updated site plan enabled the design team to orient the learning center with optimal southern exposure for passive and active solar design. In addition, the site plan allowed for amble outdoor spaces facing south for large event gatherings with the agricultural structures taking center stage.
The most complex design goal was to ensure the new building was carbon neutral or better. Energy efficient systems and materials were extensively researched and selected based on the responsibility to achieve a greener ecological footprint. The photovoltaic solar array consists of a 64 panel, 20.8kW system producing approximately 31,000 kWh per year. Passive solar elements such as south facing windows maximize lighting and minimize mechanical control. The external rammed earth walls regulate indoor temperatures through to assist in reducing total energy consumption. Earthen floors and rammed earth walls are fully visible and exposed how they share the heating and cooling properties of thermal massing to help control the interior temperature fluctuations. Resysta exterior wood cladding was selected for the gable barn volume because of it is beautiful, contextual, durable, and regenerative elements that do not contribute to deforestation. In addition, light shelves were designed to increase interior lighting by reflecting daylight onto the ceiling.
Another essential design goal was to elevate the relationship of people to food and land, thereby creating healthier environmental relationships. Harvesting rainwater to teach the importance of water conservation was done with rain-chains, open downspouts, and collection barrels. These elements were integrated into the design to show a visual path of how the rainwater moves from the roof to the collection barrels. Students or staff can use the collected water from within the barrels for irrigation throughout the farm.
Future-proofing infrastructure to handle new sustainable systems was the biggest challenge since integrating advanced sustainable systems do not currently exist under today’s building codes. The on-site treatment of black and grey water is currently not allowed. To get around this, the design team prepared a ‘living machine,’ which is a low energy sewage treatment system used to recycle and treat wastewater. This system mimics the natural purification process of rivers and wetlands and relies on a series of basins, each forming a specific ecosystem. Each basin is connected by pipes and contains hundreds of plant and animal species that essentially treat the wastewater as it passes through each basin.
Another concept for creating alternate energy was to build a methane digester. This system is an all-natural method in which naturally occurring microorganisms break down organic waste, such as the horse manure from the farm. From this breakdown, methane gas is produced and once treated, this gas can then be burned to supply the farm with electricity. Visitors can observe meter displays that show real-time electricity being used by the building and the amount of energy being harnessed from the solar array on the roof. These displays can also show detailed reports to educate how energy demands fluctuate throughout the year.
A rooftop pollinator garden serves as an interactive teaching aid about specific pollen and nectar producing plants, how they attract an array of pollinator insects, and why they are essential to pollinating our crops. The covered trellis area doubles as an outdoor classroom, in addition to a demonstration kitchen to accommodate instructional cooking into the daily program curriculum.
To support local farmers, an onsite Farm Stand is available to farmers to sell their produce and products. In addition, there is a root cellar under the new building designed to give local farmers a place to store their crops. With its large storage capacity, the root cellar allows for expanded produce production across the Roaring Fork Valley. Further supporting local farmers, an ‘equipment library’ will act as a loaner program to supply them with additional equipment required to maintain their farms and food production.