Completion Date: October 2014


Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Brock Environmental Center, Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s newest environmental center houses their Hampton Road’s education, advocacy, and restoration programs. Located on Pleasure House Point, the center preserves the last undeveloped 122-acre parcel in Virginia Beach. The facility includes staff offices, an 80-seat conference room, meeting rooms, exhibit areas and an outdoor classroom built to host thousands of K-12 students each year.

The LEED Platinum-certified center is a model for sustainable design, having achieved net-zero energy, water, and waste after one year of operation, and is on track to earn Living Building Challenge certification. The design expresses the spirit of the unique site while simultaneously showcasing technologies that contribute to the net-zero goals. Resiliency principles informed the design, siting the building 200 feet from the shore. Resting atop pylons 14 feet above sea level, the building will endure anticipating sea-level rise and hurricanes. The curved façade of the building responds to the nearby shoreline, maximizes daylight, and embraces passive solar principles.

Curving roofs recall the site’s wind-swept live oaks, the wings of a gull, and the protective shell of an oyster, while also embodying rainwater collection. The material palette references native colors and textures; zinc shingles mimic fish scales, cypress cladding reinforces the site’s colors and horizontality, and bright metals parallel the glistening Bay. The long floor plate is interrupted by a “dog trot”, an open air pass-through that intensifies breezes for natural ventilation and also recalls regional, vernacular architecture.

The interiors are open and loft-like, with 20-foot ceilings at their peak. Bi-directional breezes are captured with low inlet and high outlet windows on both North and South façades. A porch lines the south façade sheltering the interior from unwanted solar heat gain, while large clerestory windows provide glare-free daylight, allowing for a 97% reduction in lighting energy since the building opened. A VRF HVAC system utilizes 18 ground-source wells, harnessing the earth’s stable temperature, improving heating and cooling efficiency. The Center is net-positive energy, producing nearly twice as much energy than it consumes. Two 10 kW wind turbines book-end the Center and a 45 kW photovoltaic array is located on south facing roof.

The Center is the first in the US to receive a commercial permit for drinking-treated rainwater in accordance with federal requirements. The metal roof captures rainwater, filling cisterns sized to withstand a 6 week drought. Composting toilets treat all waste on-site, while leachate is stored and sent to a local struvite reactor and converted into commercially available fertilizer.

Whenever possible, natural materials from the US Southeast were selected to reinforce a sense-of-place and biophilic goals, while reducing chemical constituents. Salvaged building products were also used. Maple floors from a local gymnasium were transformed into interior flooring. All interior wood trim was made from salvaged school bleachers, preserving students’ carvings/graffiti. Wood doors, cabinets, countertops, mirrors, sinks, toilet accessories, and lockers were salvaged from local demolition projects. The wood siding was milled from cypress “sinker logs”—remnants from 19th century logging, recovered from the bottom of rivers centuries later.

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