The buildings at the Center are designed to minimize the amount of energy required for heating and cooling of the interior spaces. They work with natural patterns of the sun as well as airflows to passively regulate the internal temperatures of the buildings.
Trellis structures on the South side of buildings support grapes, chayote, or other deciduous vines. The shade from the vines block direct sunlight from entering the buildings in the summer, helping to keep the interior spaces from heating up. In the winter, the vines lose their leaves and lower sun angles allow direct sunlight to penetrate into the interior spaces, passively warming the building.
The buildings are also designed to control airflow to increase human comfort. Hot air is allowed to dissipate out of clerestory windows as cooler air enters the space from below, creating a chimney effect that promotes airflow. Riverfront dormitory is also elevated to allow cool evening air to flow underneath the interior spaces.
Building exteriors are finished with a fast-growing, renewable cedar, and the Center is continually exploring alternative building materials, particularly materials that are waste products of our society. As an example, the Center contructed a straw-bale incubator building which houses our bio-diesel operation. Straw is a waste product of agricultural activity that is also an effective building material, providing better insulative properties than commercially-available products, and If constructed properly, will last for centuries.
Alternative materials are also being routinely studied in small, temporary projects on display at the Center.