Earlier this year, ajc architects finished a beautiful new addition to an already beautiful landscape in the more than 70-year-old Tracy Aviary bird sanctuary, located in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park.
“They were seeking a landmark building,” explains Nathan Webster, associate architect at ajc architects and project manager for the LEED Gold-certified Tracy Aviary Visitors Center.
The aviary is the nation’s oldest, and has been through various stages of upkeep and disrepair throughout its lifespan. But within the past few years, there has been a significant renovation effort, and in 2008 taxpayers voted to have a portion of their taxes go toward improving the facility. Along with funding from the Friends of Tracy Aviary (FOTA), the tax dollars contributed to the opening of the new visitors center, as well as a boardwalk and entry plaza.
An important aspect of the site is its trees, which envelope visitors and set the stage for a memorable experience. “As the design team was looking for inspiration, we found that the buildings within the park included every style possible. The unifying feature amongst them was this beautiful tree canopy,” Webster recalls.
This revelation spawned the defining feature of the visitors center: a patterned, metal façade that simulates the dappled light coming through the canopy. It’s also meant to resemble birds or butterflies in flight. The design team worked with a local metal fabrication shop to design the exterior, which was eventually comprised of large sheets of steel run through a water-jet cutter.
The façade also has a functional purpose, in that it controls the light and views coming both in and out of the center; it also adds to the solar heat gain of the building. And with slight variations in the panels, there are different angles and surprises to experience at every corner.
“The energy side was a huge part of the sustainability story,” says Webster, noting that the project is 36 percent more efficient than a comparable building (with 11 percent of that due to photovoltaic panels on the roof).
Also included in the team’s LEED submission was an innovation point request for “reduced bird impact,” which requires three years of documentation to see how it performs in the real world. The metal façade is one element of this, as are special panes of glass (for the expanses of the building where there is no metal) that have a pattern that is invisible to the human eye. Birds are attracted to reflective surfaces or those they can see through, and assume they can fly through them; it is hoped that these special additions to the project will help preserve the very wildlife that the Tracy Aviary promises to protect.
Overall, the team from ajc has delivered a
visitors center that draws in the public (according to Webster, expected admission numbers have been exceeded) and celebrates a history that dates back to the 1930s.