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UNLV Libraries Main Page -> Architecture Studies Library -> Las Vegas Guides and Collections -> Las Vegas Architects and Buildings Database -> Projects

California Trails Interpretive Center

Photos & Links: (Web Page 1)
Elko, NV
Architectural Elements: The building is sited along an east/west axis for maximum solar orientation. The use of screens and overhangs allow daylight to infuse the interior spaces. The southern face includes a horizontal wood slat screen wall and the overhangs are extended as horizontal trellis work. The fabric skin of the vaulted roofs and the skylight along the Orientation Hall, act as energy saving diffusers, filtering light to the space below. Translucent tower-like forms between each vault mark the "special" exhibit spaces and function as vents for the indoor air. The building steps with the site resulting in a balance of cut and fill; no earth is hauled off of the site. Indigenous rock from site is to be used for the retaining wall. Low-e glass is to be used as well as F.S.C. certified wood for structural members. The landscaping is native eliminating the need for a permanent irrigation system.
Description: Statement of Design Approach: Develop an architecture that engages the interpretive story through organization, building features, textures, and views. Generate a variety of spaces that can accommodate different "types" of exhibits. Make a memorable statement to the visitors. Create an icon for the community of Elko.
Purpose and Location: The purpose is to honor the history of the California Trail and the crossing of the Hastings Cutoff and California Trail along the Humbolt River. The property is located on a south facing sloped site of BLM land 6 miles west of Elko, Nevada. The site is near and highly visible from Interstate 80. There is an uninterrupted view of the Ruby Mountains and the point where the California Trail merges with the Hastings Cutoff Trail 2 miles south of the property.
Owner's Inspiration: Initiated by the grass roots effort of Elko citizens, the group's project brief was to develop a building design inspired by the wagon trail experience. Their intent was to break away from the understated, introverted visitor's centers that exist along the trail. They wished to address the design for this Interpretive Center with a connection to the exterior and modern principles of space, form, and detail.
Programmatic Requirements: Orientation Hall, Photo and Map Gallery, Audio Visual Cubicles, Exhibit Atrium, Main Exhibit Hall, Theatre, Observation Tower, Outdoor Exhibit Trail and Amphitheatre.
Project Description: This building is an Interpretive Center that tells visitors the story of the experience of over 300,000 emigrants who traveled on six-month journeys between 1841 and 1860 with a quest to reach a better life out West. The hillside site, the imagery of the wagon trains, and spectacular views inspired the design. By understanding the form of the landscape, along with the role of an interpretive facility, the design responds with an appropriate symbolism and grandeur to convey the importance of this building for the nearby community of Elko.

As a result, the concept evolves as a repetition of thinly veiled vaulted forms arrayed consecutively and in alignment with the topography. This sets a metaphoric vocabulary inspired by the pictorial wagon train that pronounces the Center and accommodates a myriad of exhibit display needs.

For a community that requested that this building become a signature for their region, the design builds on the area's emigrant trail history and the notion of wagons circling along the brow of a hillside bend. Exposed structural wood framing and translucent vaults, as an interpretation of the wagon assemblage, define the architectural expression. This allows for clear-span open space that gives flexibility to the exhibit space, while lending a specific aesthetic that becomes the beacon that the Elko community desired. The mundane enclosure of most Emigrant Trail Interpretive Centers is replaced by an open airy solution that provides natural day lighting and ties the visitor to the panorama of the trail terrain.

Elements of Design: The parti responds to the owners' desire to tell the story in a particular sequence and is generated by the site and metaphor. The owner wished to have the building interact with the visitor as a stage-like setting for the exhibits. With that, window walls in the round Exhibit Atrium offer a natural backdrop to the exhibits, and a water element replicates the Humbolt River. In addition, the vaulted exhibit spaces are reminiscent of a vantage point from within a wagon, and an "undulating" trail-like walking experience is emulated by incorporating a variety of extended interior and exterior ramps that traverse, circle, and oppose the natural lay of the land. These ramps form a linked continuum with surfaces detailed with random stone and roughened aggregate concrete. The main exhibit hall includes footbridges that extend to the outdoors offering the visitor places to pause and take in the views of wide-open terrain that the emigrants once traveled. The theatre and administration offices are placed as more introverted spaces. This plan arrangement creates a wind protected outdoor exhibit area to the north which connects to the existing walking trails up the hill.

Overall, the architecture looks to convey an expression of the community's mission by using the site morphology and historic references to generate an iconic manipulation of space, form, detail and experience.
Extra Note: AIA Nevada Design Awards (2007) Entry No. UB07034, Submission.
UNLV Architecture Studies Library holds: Form Core Boards, Project Identification Form, Photo Release Form, Intern Compensation Disclaimer Form, Project Entry Form, Exteriors Photos, Site Plan, Floor Plans, Interior Photos and CD