Last year, New Jersey held a competition to design a visitor center for their largest city, Newark. Over two hundred entries were submitted for the competition, which required the use of innovative sustainable features. One of the finalists was the Brooklyn architectural firm, super interesting!, with their proposal “Engaging Ecology – Connecting Community”, which strongly emphasizes the links between the local environment and the surrounding community. The visitor center they are considering includes an intertidal swamp, a permanent exhibit on Newark’s history, a bioremediation system and would be built from salvaged materials.
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While the other three final design proposals were also great, we liked the super interesting attention to the surroundings. They proposed new tidal marsh wetlands to allow visitors to connect with the river flowing out of the city, while also serving as an environmental barometer to assess climate change. If the sea level rises as expected, visitors can see the changes in wetland habitat. The intertidal marsh also acts as a natural system for bioremediation and filtration of runoff from nearby streets and parking lots before it reaches the ocean.
The current reception center would be constructed from salvaged materials such as brick and wood, and built on a concrete plinth above the wetlands. A swampy yard would be centrally located and visitors could actually descend and touch the water rather than just seeing it from a distance. The center would be heated by a geothermal radiant heat source as well as by solar thermal collectors, and cooling would be facilitated by natural ventilation cooled through the wetlands. Inside the center, rooms would be available for teaching and community events as well as educating visitors about the history of the region.