Students tackle designs for sustainable state park building

It should be sustainable yet “traditional and warm,” not coldly modern. It should reflect the landscape. It should feel like a “base camp”. Maybe it should have an aquarium or an indoor beehive.

Forsyth Technical Community College student explains features of his winning design.
Forsyth Technical Community College student explains features of his winning design.

These are a few visions from the next generation of architects and designers for state park buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council North Carolina Chapter just completed a competition aimed at the best students. Their assignment: attempt to design a visitor center for Lake James State Park that incorporates the best green building practices.

Ten teams from seven universities put their designs in front of distinguished judges in North Carolina, and the awards were presented Saturday at William B. Umstead State Park. Emily Scofield, the chapter’s executive director, told the students, “You’re generation green. You are the ones that are going to be designing, building and using the spaces of the future, and we want them to be better for all of us and better for the environment.”

Visitors examine designs from seven university teams for a state park visitor center.
Visitors examine designs from seven university teams for a state park visitor center.

Nearly 10 years ago, the state parks system began building its visitor centers and other large buildings to standards of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. To date, seven facilities have earned LEED certification (five at the gold level). On the ground, that means designing for a light footprint on the state park landscape. For instance, the visitor centers have solar and geothermal energy systems, natural lighting and water-saving fixtures. The designs often aim for locally supplied materials, natural landscaping and occasionally amenities for bicyclists for special parking or low-emission vehicles. The entire concept is that state parks should set the bar for protecting the environment when building facilities.

The students get that. Many of their designs took the concepts even further where possible with some startling designs and bold ideas. And in presenting them to judges, students noted how they were inspired by the landscape of Lake James State Park. The winner was a team from Forsyth Technical Community College and East Carolina University was first runner-up.

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