Friday, June 6, 2008

How Now Brown Cow?

I live in a rural state. How long was it going to be before I got to a cow post? Clearly not long. Because it is now time to celebrate the most famous brown cow in the state, The Heifer Project cow, and all that he (no udder, yes?) stands for.

The Heifer Project is an international non-profit organization that supplies people living in poverty with animals for husbandry and economic growth. It also supplies plants and even training in sustainable agriculture. But the Heifer Cow is the most famous part. In elementary school we hoarded pennies for our own slice of a cow to send to a poor family in Africa. In middle school there was a field trip out to Heifer's thousand acre spread in Perryville, where we got to pet the animals themselves on a tour complete with motorized hay cart ride. So it is that the Arkansas schoolchild can name with justifiable pride a major non-profit organization based in the state. You would remember it too if you got to pet a large brown cow destined for Africa.

Thus it was with a little nostalgic twinge that I pulled up to The Heifer Project's new headquarters with my friend E. a while back. Sadly it was closed, but I promised E., who is an architect and had expressed interest in the structure, that I would come back with a camera and post a photo tour of the building. Sorry it's a little late E. It required sunny weather, flexible use of a lunch hour, and actually owning a camera.

Heifer International Center Headquarters, as E. pointed out, has a unique design nationally recognized for its innovative green architecture. The building harmonizes our local environment and Heifer's moral credo of responsible sustainability with the demands of corporate office space.

The site is by the Arkansas river, just to the east of downtown. From here the river flows down to the cotton fields of Scott.

Off to the left is the Clinton Library. The red building is now the Clinton School of Public Service. It used to be a train depot (notice the old railroad bridge) and there were several old warehouses along the river, but otherwise development was light. The area was a designated brownfield which Heifer cleaned by removing thousands of tons of soil. Construction continues with a global village and hunger education center.

The building itself is a narrow crescent raised over a reconstructed wetland, which also serves as a bioswale for surface runoff water.

Notice the happy turtles in the water. These turtles came up from the river, which means they had to cross the global village construction site desert in search of greener pasture. The Land Before Time for turtles.

The orientation of the building is east-west, allowing maximum exposure to sunlight. Sunshades integrated into the exterior shelter the building from excess heat in summer, while light shelves installed along the interior wall bounce light up to the ceiling and capture it for winter heat. A unique design feature that might interest you, dear E., were the custom-made light shades installed vertically between punchouts to protect from overexposure.

Materials for the building are as far as possible local, from the stone facings (Subiaco possibly?) to the native pine ceiling to the gravel. In fact, the gravel is the crushed masonry of the old warehouses along the river, almost all of which was recycled into the current project.

I realize, E., that the parking lot is the one aspect of the building with which you are already familiar. We both appreciated the aesthetic of paving the lot in concrete and reserving the gravel for the parking spaces only. In addition to allowing water to reach the ground, the lots drain surface runoff to bioswales which in turn sustain the wetlands. Nifty.

The interior is only 62 feet wide (I checked), so the penetration of natural light is almost total. Insulation is made of Arkansas soybean and recycled cotton. (Really? I'm not sure how this works.) Modular raised floors contribute to the energy efficiency. Notice the carpet and wood on the lower floor in the picture. Both are designed for corrections to be made with minimal interference. The carpet can be removed and replaced by the square. The floor can come up in panels to allow easy access to plumbing and wiring.

Finally, the main stairways (there is also an interior elevator) are located in two exterior shafts along the back facade of the building. The shafts are not climate-controlled, for greater energy efficiency. In one, the stair wraps around a retention tower capable of holding up to 25,000 gallons of water. Roof rain is piped to the tower where it is filtered and used for the cooling system and to flush the toilets. A large retention basin beside the parking lot is fed by excess rain water and nourishes the wetland.

So there it all is. The only thing to add is that the gift shop is nice, with lots of fair trade products and a good library on green issues, though a little doom-and-gloom in keeping with current fashion. I must say free trade chocolate is a tempting way to end a lunch break.


Laura said...

Sorry these photos aren't bigger. I'll try and fix that later.

Jack and Amy said...

oooohhhh, arkansas? anybody home? i need my fix of the natural state.

About Me

Little Rock, Arkansas
I work at a local museum, date a lovely boy, and with my free time procrastinate on things like blogs.