Imagine strolling on trails connected to 520 peaceful acres of land sprawling with more than 200 thousand trees and 6 acres of prairie – a sanctuary for people and wildlife alike. This refuge exists in the form of a nature center in unsuspecting Austin, Minnesota. Due to its deep connection with nature, this new Interpretive Center, the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, is serving as a Midwest model of sustainability.

Connecting to the Environment + Community

The Jay C. Nature Center is the brainchild of the center’s former director and conservationist Larry Dolphin. As a passionate advocate of the outdoors, Dolphin planted his vision in the sights of the Hormel Foundation and Austin community leaders.

“The building – and the exhibits and displays – will give us a wonderful educational opportunity to demonstrate how we can take care of the planet,” Larry Dolphin stated in an online letter to the community in 2015 when the project was just starting to gain momentum. “In doing so, we will better understand the imperative need to take care of ourselves and wild ones we share it with.”

Dolphin’s vision was on trend. According to the Dodge Data & Analytics World Green Building Trends 2016 SmartMarket Report, the global green building sector doubles every three years.

More than just plan sets and specifications, ISG’s designs helped craft a purpose, message, and identity for the Nature Center reflected in the building’s physical environment. Now, the facility stands tall as an embodiment of sustainability, both in the learning and outdoor activities it offers visitors and in the ways the center engages with its surrounding landscape through bird-safe glass, geothermal and photovoltaic systems, and rain gardens.

Green Building Trends + Sustainable Design Benefits

The Nature Center serves as just one example of what sustainable design can do regardless of location or climate. With its automated lighting system and LED lights, it hits on what the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) sees as a top priority in green building – energy efficiency. The geothermal and photovoltaic systems aid in achieving an energy-efficient structure.

sustainable design features

Other top trends include systems that reclaim and reuse water, solar power, green or cool roofs, building deconstruction, and energy-efficient windows.

The Nature Center saw the benefits of a more valuable building and reduced day-to-day costs when mulling over designs for their new Interpretive Center. According to the USGBC, green building adds an average expected value increase of four percent. LEED-certified buildings in the U.S. realize 20 percent lower maintenance costs than typical commercial buildings. Green building minimizes the millions of tons of materials standard building practices use and waste each year.

As society justifiably becomes more concerned with the state of our climate, green building will (and should) continue to lead the way, and the systems and methods used will become increasingly advanced. In the meantime, Austin, Minnesota will kick off Earth Day 2017 with a Center that is a model of sustainability and one of the greatest local connections to Mother Nature.

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Meet Nick Ellenberger PE, LEED AP

Skilled with analyzing existing structures and developing additions for those that are new, Nick’s broad structural design experience includes steel, concrete, masonry, and wood structures for multiple types of businesses,...