The Vasquez Rocks Nature and Interpretive Center is a vital gateway to a unique asset in the Los Angeles County Parks system. The high-desert site is one of the most significant natural areas in the region; its sculptural rock formations have inspired generations of visitors and provided the backdrop to dozens of Hollywood movies and television shows. Its location along the Pacific Crest Trail affords hikers on a 2,650-mile walk from Mexico to Canada an unforgettable point of reference.
The Nature and Interpretive Center, in our view, must address the theme of environmental stewardship, conservation, the visual drama of its surroundings and the cinematic imagery these surroundings have inspired. Through carefully integrated exhibits and design moments, a narrative unfolds, in synch with the folded plates of the sculptural form. The visitor immediately grasps the significance of the surrounding landscape when first confronted with a form that so clearly echoes that landscape. Her interest and understanding is deepened upon entering, as the significance of the geological and climatic processes that gave rise to the Rocks is communicated through a series of panels, mechanical interactive exhibits, and several A/V programs, and emphasized by the steep pitch of the surrounding structure.
As much as the shape is intended to communicate drama and intrigue, it is also a pragmatic resolution of site conditions that optimizes building performance and minimizes the need for energy consumption. The orientation of the building protects occupants from the scorching summer sun and admits the low winter sun; it is also oriented to capture prevailing breezes, cooling the building as wind passes over it. The angled roofs not only generate visual interest; they channel water into a storage tank. The overhang along the northeast and southwest edges frames the view of the surrounding landscape while sheltering the interior from solar rays. The expressiveness of the building’s form and the allusions of its materiality are intended to reinforce, rather than disguise, the sustainable strategies at work.
In essence, the new Vasquez Rocks Nature and Interpretive Center communicates the feeling that it is at one with its environment, treading lightly upon the land but leaving a significant cognitive impact upon the visitor. It is at once visually arresting and subtly integrated - it’s as if it has been there as long as the rocks themselves.