Today was a big day for TBDA, as we joined the Park District of Oak Park staff and Board and many guests to cut the ribbon at AGEEC.

PDOP Executive Director Jan Arnold before ribbon-cutting

One of the most rewarding moments as an architect is knowing that you have brought a client’s vision to life and given them something to love. The vision for AGEEC included a place for nature-based preschool (see the Children and Nature Network for inspiration on this theme), a meeting hall with a view to the park, and support for the Festival Theater and winter skating; all of this was to be housed in a building of utmost energy efficiency, with water collection for toilet flushing, ground-source (“geothermal”) heat pump heating and cooling, rooftop solar photovoltaic electricity production, and landscaping featuring a learning garden, rain gardens, native plantings, and outdoor gathering space (designed by the excellent Carol Yetken  Landscape Architects). It was a totally inspiring program and client, a rewarding vision to fulfill.

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View from east: rainwater collection at left for toilet flushing and irrigation; overflow to rain garden

The interior features wood trim of ash, milled from a tree that died from Emerald Ash Borer last year in one of PDOP’s parks.

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Reclaimed ash trim, ground, colored, and sealed concrete floors; a room that embraces the park

The building was conceived as an embodiment of the native oak savanna: with a tall canopy facing the park and a low, dense enclosure against the alley, a sense of prospect and refuge is created. The building really does feel nestled into its site.

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View from Classroom to discovery garden

I’m a huge fan of the work Richard Louv has been doing–see his Last Child In The Woods–and am so glad that PDOP is bringing nature-based preschool to Oak Park. CYLA created a beautiful garden with planting containers for the kids to use, demonstration areas, diverse plantings with interpretive signs, and a gathering space for outdoor learning.

LEED (Platinum) certification is pending, and we anticipate the PV array will allow us to reach net zero annual energy. Part of LEED (and other standards, for that matter) is education and outreach. PDOP wants this building to be an inspiration and learning center for local home (and other building) owners. From our Passive techniques used on the envelope (highly insulated and airtight, thermal bridge-free) to real-time monitoring of the PV array, we all hope to share and inspire with the AGEEC.