Built in 1959, the visitor center is one of the most prominent & best preserved examples of a modernist architectural design done under the “Mission 66” program in California, and has been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located in a park in one of the world’s harshest environments, the visitor center is comprised of two structures: the Administration Building and the Museum Building which surround a landscaped courtyard.
The project responded to several objectives:
* Preserve the character and materials of these significant structures and landscapes
* Improve user comfort and functionality throughout
* Update the building’s performance through new building systems that are energy-efficient and low-maintenance
* Enlarge the buildings to accommodate increased visitor areas and office space
* Incorporate a large PV system to provide electrical power to the site
The original buildings were sensitively expanded in three areas: the main lobby including the visitor information station and bookstore; the men’s restroom and new covered exterior “water station” alcove with multiple drinking fountains; and at the administrative offices. These additions were designed to blend with the original architecture and preserve character-defining features of the complex.
The site was rehabilitated and restored with new plantings to achieve reduced water use, new concrete pedestrian paving to replace concrete deteriorated by the desert salt, and parking lot modifications for accessibility and improved passenger loading. The courtyard area was also rehabilitated with shade structures to make the outdoor space more inviting.
Considerable thought was given to incorporating sustainable features while preserving the buildings’ character. Final solutions for environmental control systems were selected through cost-benefit analysis that included looking at potential impacts to the historic structures. The final design for HVAC incorporates the latest generation evaporative cooling devices coupled with chilled water-cooled air handlers to meet the air-conditioning demand.
Upgrading the energy performance of the building envelope was challenging since the largely concrete block walls left no space for adding insulation, and the flat roofs often extended to thin canopies at the building facades. Furring with thermal insulation was added over wall areas where there was no adverse effect on the historical character of the interiors. New reflective roofing was installed over added insulation; rigid foam was tapered down at the perimeter edges to maintain fascia heights.
The Lobby storefront, Auditorium sliding glass doors, and Administrative Building office windows were also replaced with modern dual, low-heat-gain glazed units to improve energy performance. Extensive research was done to find products that closely matched the original frame profiles while accommodating the thicker glass assemblies.
The Auditorium was updated with new mechanical systems, theatrical lighting and controls, and sound systems. Acoustical panels were integrated into the wall finishes, in a way that complements the original concrete block walls, some of which were left exposed to preserve the impression of the original design.