Visitor Activity Center at the Pocono Environmental Education Center
Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, United States
“This building is much more than its simple shed design might initially suggest. The wall of recycled tires is beautiful, textural, and compelling as an educational statement, and is reflective of the entire building’s mission to serve as a tool for environmental education.”
Designed primarily for children, the Visitor Activity Center is a teaching tool, demonstrating the ways and importance of sustainability and broadening the understanding of our interdependent relationship with nature. It is approached through forest, which gives way to wetland. There, the facility’s undulating black wall, made of reclaimed tires, is first seen. Visitors enter through an opening in the dark north wall and cross a bar of service spaces into the bright, sunlit main room.
The Nature of Place
Located within National Park Service land, the Visitor Activity Center’s design reflects its nonprofit and governmental sponsors’ commitment to environmental stewardship. Through careful siting, orientation, materials selection and building systems analysis, the building is a paragon of sustainable design. Set in a native forest within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, visitors approach through the forest that gives way to wetland. Building placement minimized the clearing of mature trees, maximizes solar orientation and preserves wetland. The great south-facing shed takes full advantage of the warmth of the sun, cool mountain breezes, abundant natural light and views of the forest. Its roof affords shading in summer and provides covered porches for outdoor gatherings.
The Nature of People
Intended to both provide flexible program space and be a teaching tool in itself, the Visitor Activity Center provides hands-on opportunities for learning. Users can understand the building’s passive design features by operating manual controls to activate natural ventilation and daylighting. The masonry wall of the central activity space includes blocks etched with images from nature, primarily drawn by urban children visiting PEEC, to further serve in educating visitors about our connection to the environment. The building’s sunlit multi-purpose room is used by PEEC as well as nearby community groups, helping the organization broaden its mission of environmental stewardship while generating additional revenue and fostering a greater sense of community in the region.
The Nature of Materials
Many of the building’s materials, including the exposed fly-ash concrete floor slab and frame, ground-face concrete masonry units and wood structural system were selected for their durability, long life span, and low environmental impact. Reclaimed and recycled materials were chosen wherever possible without sacrificing performance. The undulating north façade is clad with shingles made on site from reclaimed tires. These tires were retrieved from the nearby river and other local sources, and converted to shingles on site. This unique solution provides a long-lasting, maintenance-free skin and also promotes the reuse of natural resources, removes material from the waste stream and directly challenges users to think about environmental responsibility.