Desert Museums in Platinum
by Leigh Christy
Another building type shattered the dual-glazed, low-e glass ceiling in April 2008 when the U.S. Green Building Council first awarded LEED Platinum certification to a museum complex.
Appropriately named, the Water + Life Museums include the Center for Water Education and the Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology. Paradoxically sited, the 17-acre (seven-hectare) campus sits confidently beneath the earthen dams of Diamond Valley Lake, Southern California's largest man-made reservoir, on land owned by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) on the outskirts of Hemet.
The crenellated steel-clad towers of the twin museums unite to create an elongated front facade. Tucked behind are plaster boxes of laboratories, classrooms, offices, central plant, and gift shop. The buildings frame and partially shade the central hardscape plaza with their perforated-steel-slatted loggias and translucent solar-panel caps. Beyond the plaza radiate a parking lot and educational gardens.
Formally referencing California's towering infrastructure projects, the monumental, 70,000-square-foot (6,500-square-meter) complex feels more indigenous to this desert landscape than the model-home developments springing up throughout the area — but it's still in a desert. Add museum-grade curatorial requirements and the question arises: how did the team led by Los Angeles-based Lehrer + Gangi Design + Build achieve its 53 LEED credits?
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