Aldo Leopold Legacy Center
The approach to the complex leads uphill over crushed-gravel paths through native plantings and around the end of the main administrative and gallery building, up to the entry, marked by a singular stone wall. Rising north, this wall forms a tall, wide stone chimney, while to the south it reclines to form the "aquaduct," a rough stone wall with a cascading water feature, defining the courtyard spaces on either side. With arched opening and graceful, irregular form, the land-marking stone recalls the compositional tone of Mary Colter's The Lookout on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
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The more formal east courtyard is enclosed to the south by a beautiful freestanding building that comprises a multipurpose classroom and event space, while its eastern edge is drawn out by a sone wall and the back face of a workshop building. The function of each building reads in its exterior expression.
An open post-and-beam structure of peeled logs with glass infill invites visitors into the Home Range Hall event space, while the opaque plank walls of the Axe-in-Hand Restoration Workshop suggest its inward focus.
Ending the building sequence at the southwest corner of the complex, diagonally across from the initial entry, is the Meeting Hall, housing a somewhat more formal interior with a waist-high expression of rammed earth akin to wainscoting.
The logs that serve as the primary structural skeleton and interior detailing of the Leopold Center come from trees planted by the Leopold family in the 1930s and '40s, which were harvested and then milled on-site. Small-diameter trees were used "in the round," preserving the strongest portion of the wood and showcasing an innovative building approach that utilizes otherwise wasted material.
Other site-harvested material was used for the exterior siding, flooring, and paneling. The rest of the building materials, where possible, are recycled aluminum, reused wood, and rapidly renewable materials such as wheatboard.
The buildings were sited to respect both ecological and cultural values; the Center is the closest building above the floodplain to the Leopold Shack. The remainder of the site is slated for restoration to the appropriate ecological communities of prairie, savanna, and wetland. Native plants will be used in the gardens around the building, parking lots, and courtyards.
An extensive photovoltaic array, one of the largest in the state of Wisconsin, is integrated into the roof, and will generate enough energy to give the Center a "net zero" energy budget. Geothermal radiant heating, when combined with radiant cooling — another first in Wisconsin at this scale — provides extremely energy-efficient mechanical systems. Carefully selected HVAC system equipment, lighting, computers, and appliances further conserve energy.
The separation of ventilation systems from heating and cooling systems, which results in a savings of two to five times the amount of energy used by a combined system, delivers only the air required by codes for ventilation and a healthy environment. Ventilation-system energy consumption has been further reduced at the Leopold Center through the use of buried earth tubes on the site, which allow preheating of ventilation air during winter and precooling during summer before the air enters the building.
The footprints of all impervious surfaces (buildings and parking areas) have been kept to an absolute minimum, allowing rain to be absorbed by the native vegetation restored on the site. Crushed gravel in lieu of blacktop and concrete paving increases rainwater filtration and blends these areas into the surrounding landscape. The aqueduct and rain garden demonstrate how rain that does fall on impervious surfaces will be directed to areas where it can infiltrate slowly back into the ground.
Highly efficient water fixtures and composting toilets are expected to reduce water consumption in excess of 65 percent compared to plumbing systems in typical buildings. A small water feature built into the aqueduct will allow the courtyards to be filled with the subtle and soothing sound of moving water.
The span of technologies at the Center is quietly breathtaking, from homegrown peeled logs used in the round as roof supports to a building with computer-simulated energy performance and one of Wisconsin's largest photovoltaic arrays.
The Leopold Legacy Center seems to be a satisfying chamber piece, simple on the outside yet intricate beneath its skin. Its twin themes of earthy contemplative beauty and deeply ethical environmentalism entwine around the double courtyard with the warmth of a lasting embrace.
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