Ford Calumet Environmental Center

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Program: Environmental Center
Status: Unbuilt

The Ford Calumet Environmental Center evolved from research to understand the Calumet region, the impact that the past century has had on its natural habitat, and the awareness required for our culture to move forward in a responsible way. The building marries natural materials with industrial technologies and optimizes them with the reliability from contemporary advances in building science. The programmatic objective is to provide an environment where people from age 3 to 103 can improve their understanding of the historical value of the area and more importantly the value of the natural cycles of earth, water, plant and animal life. The building was designed to become a responsible part of the natural cycle. The careful choreography of natural and industrial materials produces an educational building that benefits from thermal mass, natural ventilation, sun lighting and water filtration. The building gently adjusts to natural fluctuations and dynamically demonstrates that filtering and recharging of resources can be a model for building systems. The building processes and the act of its construction become a tangible and logical extension of the exhibits in and around it. A portion of the site is extracted to reveal the subsurface value of the earth and exhibit its organic processes. The act of the extraction creates a condition that generates curiosity, stimulates investigation, and encourages the understanding of our impact on and use of the natural environment. The building creates an event, which makes its site the activity, unlike a traditional building that creates an environment to enclose a set of activities. The building was designed to receive a LEED Platinum rating.