Architects balance views, efficiency, budgets—and bison—in Yellowstone

Hennebery Eddy Architects, Andersen Windows, Yellowstone National Park

Hennebery Eddy Architects designed the project's multiple buildings, including the centerpiece main structure, to capture the park's expansive views while maximizing passive solar and passive ventilation.

Hennebery Eddy Architects navigated a slew of unique challenges when designing Yellowstone National Park’s new Youth Campus. AIA partner Andersen Windows and Doors explores the stunning, sustainable results.

The Youth Campus project for Yellowstone National Park had all of the typical challenges of a multi-building commercial project—plus the added obstacles of federal government hurdles, a harsh winter climate, views that needed to be both embraced and protected, and even wildlife. Hennebery Eddy Architects not only navigated these challenges to win the project, but also upped the ante by designing to both the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and Passive House standards, proving that cutting edge and practicality can go hand in hand to meet and exceed design requirements.

A design competition hosted by the National Park Service and partner Yellowstone Forever challenged architects to update or replace Yellowstone’s existing, aging youth facilities, which play host to educational programming encompassing curriculum-based learning, summer work camps, field trips, and more.

Hennebery Eddy’s winning design includes 10 buildings across the 17 acres, including a signature main building with a dining room/multipurpose hall, offices, and classrooms; five dorms; and a storage facility for backcountry gear that also houses on-site wastewater treatment. The team sited each building to maximize views and minimize disruption of the topography.

Though designing to LBC was certainly a risk, it felt like a natural choice. “What stood out is that the National Park Service and Yellowstone Forever have similar missions around the idea of preservation and sustainability and the fact that both support this program for youth and environmental education,” says Will Ives, AIA, associate principal at Hennebery Eddy. “We said, ‘This needs to be the most sustainable campus it can be. Really, it should be regenerative, something that gives back more than it takes.’”

Once complete, the Yellowstone Youth Campus is expected to be the first LBC-certified project in a National Park.

Practical sustainability

The architects had to determine how to navigate the demands of the LBC with the other unique constraints brought by the location and its ownership, such as stunning views best appreciated through broad expanses of glass.

“We tried to balance practical sustainability,” Ives says. “We worked hard to get the building sited perfectly for passive design. Solar heat gain was something we needed to take advantage of. Otherwise we would need more photovoltaic panels than could fit on top of the buildings.”

As such, the main structure features a sloping shed roof, concentrating most of the building’s glass to a south-facing side. A dramatic expanse of floor-to-ceiling Andersen E Series aluminum-clad wood windows delivers breathtaking views; broad southern eaves provide passive shelter during the summer. Not only is the north-facing exposure minimized, but it angles into the adjacent hillside. On the other buildings, deep porches provide passive solar and passive ventilation.

A high-performance envelope, using mineral wool insulation to achieve R-54 walls and R-72 roofs, lowers energy needs as much as possible, helping to shrink the size of the photovoltaic array to 400 kW (which will provide up to 120 percent of the project’s power needs). The zinc roofs, weathering Corten steel skins, and local stone have low reflectance while blending against the high desert backdrop.

Unique challenges

Indeed, blending in was crucial to addressing another of the park’s design criteria: preserving the viewshed, particularly from the nearby Grand Loop Road. Building the structures into the hillside below the road, along with the vegetated roofs, high desert color schemes, and natural materials, help the buildings merge with the landscape rather than draw attention. “You want to feel like you’re in Yellowstone the whole time,” Ives says, noting that the firm conducted numerous studies and simulations to help the National Park Service understand the viewshed impacts.

The location also brought a more rare consideration: Wildlife. The team had to address questions such as how many times a bison can rub against an Andersen window before the finish begins to rub off and how to manage potential grazers on the green roofs. In addition, due to the proximity to natural thermal features, ground source heating was not an alternative and the continual threat of wildfires needed to be considered when designing the HVAC system. Cross-laminated-timber roofs and floors, which can be installed much more rapidly than traditional framing, help accommodate the park’s short construction window.

Andersen also had to make modifications. In order to meet the stringent Red List and sustainable resource extraction requirements of the Living Building Challenge, the manufacturer changed some components within its windows where Red List chemicals were present. Andersen engineers worked collaboratively with its suppliers, the Hennebery Eddy team, and the International Living Future Institute to find solutions that would accommodate the LBC requirements without sacrificing performance or aesthetics.

They also sourced FSC-certified Douglas fir to meet the architects’ requests.

The windows are just one component of a cohesive system of materials that will work together to balance efficiency, livability, durability, and practicality, culminating in a space that will inspire future generations to learn about, appreciate, and protect what Yellowstone has to offer.

To learn more about Andersen’s E Series windows, click here.

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Image credits

Hennebery Eddy Architects, Andersen Windows, Yellowstone National Park

Hennebery Eddy Architects

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