Location: Kemeri National Park, Latvia
Program: Ecological Visitor Center
The Kemeri National Park is the third-largest national park in Latvia and covers over 380 km². The park is home to countless species of birds and wildlife, with a varied landscape that makes it a popular visitor attraction. Just 10% of the park is occupied by lakes, rivers and sulfur springs, while over half of it is forest.
Nearly a quarter of the park, however, is made up of bogs, and this is what most of the park’s visitors come to experience. The Kemeri Bog boardwalk offers guests a chance to explore the vast network of wooden boardwalks and nature paths that traverse the park. Visitors can see nature up close and venture into a world virtually untouched by man.
The form of the building’s design takes its inspiration directly from the remarkable natural patterns of the Great Kemeri Bog. A group of tightly-clustered pools is segmented into four regions by a square outline. These regions are extruded to form four distinct programmatic elements, around which a vandal resistant perimeter wall is set. The negative space between the bog outlines serves as public space and circulation for the interior of the building. The regions of the bog outside of the building perimeter serve to define the outdoor functions of the program. Each of the outside functions is connected by a segmented path, akin to that of the boardwalk traversing the bog.
For the occupants of the building, The Great Kemeri Bog Visitors Center design is imbued with the culture and artisan craft of Latvia. An exterior wood screen evokes the beauty of traditional Latvian textile design. The screen serves to both to protect the building from vandalism and bathe the interior space with dramatic mottled light. The simple construction of the wall allows for replacement of individual façade pieces as required over time. Extensive use of natural wood throughout the building provides warmth to the interior, a strong connection to the site, and can take advantage of the abundance of highly skilled local woodworkers for construction. An open-air courtyard creates and intimate place of quiet reflection and brings nature into the heart of the building.
Sustainability plays a central role in the Visitors Center. Construction materials utilized in the design are locally available and environmentally sound. The climate of the area is cool and temperate (July ≈ 17.1°C, February ≈ -4.7°C). With only electrical service to the site, the main challenge becomes water management and heating. The environmental control system of the building combines several basic technologies in unison for optimal performance. Rain water is collected in a retaining pond that serves as a feature for the site design. This water passes through a filter and is stored for building use. A compost heating system that uses forest waste, working in tandem with a solar hot water array, will provide energy for the building’s radiant heating system and hot water for occupant use. During the summer the building will stay cool via the shaded facade and natural ventilation.