Originally Published: October 28, 2010 10:01 p.m.
Catalyst Architecture's environmentally friendly design of a nature/learning center is garnering recognition from the American Institute of Architects.
Matthew Ackerman, a principal with the Prescott-based firm, recently got the 2010 Salt River Project's Sustainable Award in late September at the Phoenix Art Museum.
The institute's Arizona chapter gave the award for the work Ackerman's firm did on the LEED-Gold James Learning Center, which is for the Highlands Center for Natural History off Walker Road in the Prescott National Forest.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the U.S. Green Building Council's flagship program for national certification guidelines of green buildings, which is broken into basic, platinum, gold and silver levels.
"We were pleased to get the award," he said. "I think it reflects a trend in sustainable architecture where they're recognizing the importance of smaller buildings and their sustainable performance."
The award recognizes the importance and sustainability in energy efficient buildings through design, planning and construction.
This is the city's first LEED certified building and the county's first LEED-Gold building, according to Ackerman, who said the center is Catalyst's First LEED building.
Ackerman said part of the goal was to make the building part of the learning about nature experience.
"They wanted the building to be a demonstration of sustainable building practices," he said.
"It was important to them that the building itself be a demonstration, a part of their teaching tools."
Ackerman said another goal was to design the building with technologies that someone could incorporate into their own home or business construction.
"Even though the design itself is a little unusual-looking, we really achieved LEED Gold certification by using what is commonly known as off-the-shelf sustainable technologies," he said.
That means south-facing walls to retain the sun's heat, placing windows on the north and south for natural lighting, radiant heat in the concrete floor, solar panels on the roof, and rainwater collection, according to Ackerman, who said his firm got the contract in November 2004 and they spent about a year on the design and construction plans.
"(Highlands Center management) knew that in order to teach, you have to capture someone's attention and imagination, so they really did need the building to stand out," he said.
Dave Irvine, executive director of the center, said thousands of visitors come there yearly and it's important show people that it's easy to live and work in buildings that are environmentally friendly inside and out.
"We were very pleased," he said. "We wanted the building to inspire other people who are building homes or other commercial buildings in the tri-cities that they can do this - this is not some pie-in-the-sky, high-cost alternative."
For information, visit www.highlandscenter.org or www.catalystarchitecture.com.