Green from the Outside in
By David Duff



The natural environment has always been integral to the foundation of the Environmental Nature Center (ENC) in Newport Beach, CA. Most recently, their vision of a truly green environment became a reality with the help of Irvine-based LPA Inc. in the inception of their new green educational facility.

LPA, one of the largest architectural, planning, landscape, engineering and interior design firms in California, developed the facility together with Griffin Structures, Inc., which provided project management services.

By using a holistic, integrated design approach, in which architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and engineers, work together from the beginning of a project, LPA was able to create a cohesive vision for the building that was unified and sustainable from the ground up.

Since the ENC's beginnings in 1971, they have utilized makeshift buildings and trailers to accommodate their classroom and gallery. These days, their building consists of a new classroom, gallery, and office space that showcase smart sustainable design practices and strategies to teachers, students, and the public.

"Everything about the building is shaped by sustainability and efficiency," explains LPA President and Newport Beach resident, Dan Heinfeld. "This building could have only happened at this site, and that is also what makes it beautiful and timeless."

LPA's design teams are passionate about the creation of architecture based on climate, landscape, and real needs. Thus, the building does not reflect a particular style, but rather is shaped by its environment and individuals who interact with the building.

For more than 35 years, the ENC has endeavored to provide visitors with a quality education through hands-on experiences with nature. Their mission is rooted in a belief that each time a visitor enters the site, there is an opportunity to increase their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

"The ENC provides the community with natural science and social science education programs, preserved open space, and a sanctuary from the pressures of everyday life," describes ENC Executive Director, Bo Glover. "Even the entry desk is educational, modeling the geologic layers of Orange County which include a seismic fault and embedded fossils."

The building and learning center sits on a 3.5-acre natural preserve that features 15 native Southern California plant communities, wildlife habitats, walking trails, and a butterfly  garden. Guests learn how to implement sustainable features in their lives while museum displays tout California's biodiversity.

This non-profit preserve is recognized as the premier natural science center in Southern California and welcomed more than 16,000 students last year alone. The students participate in hands-on classes at the ENC's indoor-outdoor education environment

"A lot of kids these days have 'nature deficit disorder,' comments Glover. "Instead of taking kids to soccer or piano lessons, parents bring their children here for 'nature' lessons."

In addition to children's classes, the ENC offers a "Green Lecture Series" in which sustainable building and living experts provide informative presentations to the public. Upcoming lectures such as "The Eco-Friendly Kitchen" and "Going Solar" are available during the upcoming autumn months.

These free talks reinforce the message of sustainability by making it plausible in everyone's life. Green design and living is not reserved for one particular group, but available for all in their homes and businesses.

Glover wanted the sustainable elements incorporated throughout the learning center to demonstrate to students and visitors that green design is the wave of the future. "LPA understood that we were in need of a building to complement our commitment to natural science education," said Glover. Mission accomplished.

The new building and learning center is used as a teaching tool that helps students grasp and learn about the elements and processes involved with sustainable design. In fact, the entire project communicates stewardship and respect for resources and the natural environment. ENC Designer and LPA Principal, Rick D'Amato designed the building with a reason and a purpose.

"Everything you see has a sustainable story," explains D'Amato. "We coupled sustainable technologies with authentic architecture to create a place that welcomes guests and educates them about the benefits of environmentally-conscious design."

Sustainable features at the 9,000-square-foot building and learning center include: optimized building orientation; bicycle storage and shower facilities; drought tolerant, indigenous landscape; fixtures that promote water conservation ‹ such as waterless urinals and low-flow faucets; efficient storm water management and daylight harvesting.

"Guests enjoy natural ventilation without the use of heating and/or air conditioning, dimming systems and occupancy sensors, an aggressive Sustainable Education program, heat island reduction, and green housekeeping techniques and products," continues D'Amato.

The extensive use of recycled and recyclable materials includes: insulation made of recycled blue jeans; natural linoleum for countertops ‹ 100% organic and recyclable; composite wood for exterior skin made from sawdust and natural resin; pressed organic materials for millwork and shelving units; natural concrete; carpet tiles with high recycled content and recycled fabrics/finishes for furnishings and work stations.

Another unique feature is that the building is net-zero which means it creates as much energy as it uses. Photovoltaic roof panels convert light into power and provide for 100-percent of the building's electrical needs.

This will save the ENC an exorbitant amount of money, $20,000 annually. With buildings using more than 71-percent of the nation's electricity consumption, it is more important than ever to learn from and utilize truly sustainable design.

"The rising cost of energy is a reality from here on out," continues Heinfeld. "At the ENC, we naturally ventilated the building to take the HVAC load off the power grid. This allowed us to provide a smaller array of Photovoltaic (PV) panels which currently provides enough energy for the building's needs."

The ENC's new building and learning center is on track to become the first LEED Platinum building in Orange County, an honor shared by only ten other buildings in the state of California, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

This building showcases sustainability and demonstrates that any building can be green, cost-effective, and beautiful. More importantly, it is a shining light in the community about the importance of ongoing education, the natural environment, and its significance in our lives.

For information, visit or The Environmental Nature Center is located at 1601 16th Street, Newport Beach, CA 92663.

David Duff is an associate at Irvine-based LPA, Inc. He is also a LEED-Accredited Professional and an active member of the American Institute of Architects.

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