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The Disney Wilderness
Right on our doorstep are hundreds of acres of unspoilt wilderness just waiting for you to visit
Why You Should Visit
How to Prepare for Your
Why the Conservancy
Selected This Site
What the Conservancy Has
You won't see Mickey, Donald or Pluto running through the grass—it's not encouraged—though Bambi wouldn't seem out of place at The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve, Orlando, FL. The company behind a myriad of characters, movies and destinations that children and adults have come to love has embarked on a new mission in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the nation's leading environmental organizations. The two partners are driving forces behind a project that will bring wonder, learning and environmental understanding to an untold number of people.
The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve was established in 1992 to compensate for the loss of wetlands caused by further development of the Walt Disney World Resort. The 12,000-acre preserve is a cooperative effort between TNC, The Walt Disney Co., The Greater Orlando Airport Authority and several public agencies.
The mission behind the preserve's development is to repair drained wetlands, reintroduce natural fire cycles, replace non-native pest plants with native vegetation, and to study and monitor the 16 threatened and endangered species that inhabit the site. A facility was needed that would facilitate both work and study at the preserve—one that would reflect the environmental respect and concern exhibited by the project's partners. The result is the Conservation Learning Centre (CLC), which opened in 1999.
"The completion of the CLC begins to fulfil many of the goals that have been established for programs at the preserve," says Jim Yawn, project manager for Walt Disney Imagineering. "Our collective vision was to make the centre a place for learning while showcasing an environmental approach to facility design. Our foremost concern for the CLC's design was to select an appropriate setting for the centre and to minimize its impact on the environment."
Jora Young, director of science and special projects for the Florida chapter of TNC, likens the facility to a teaching hospital for the environment.
"This project is integral to the teaching and restoration efforts that will take place at the preserve. The center houses administrative functions and classrooms and is the trailhead for the path that winds throughout the preserve."
Both Young and Yawn note that the centre needed to be consistent with the goals established for the preserve while also meeting the needs of the people who work there. Many individuals contributed to the design process, helping to make certain that the needs of all users would be fulfilled.
The CLC was constructed on an area of pasture that was heavily impacted by past uses and is located in the middle of the restoration area. The principles associated with sustainability were at the forefront of the design from day one—an approach that makes environmentally responsible design much easier.
"It's obviously harder and often more costly to make a project sustainable after you have started to design," states Geoff Meyer, AIA, project manager for Cooper Johnson Smith Architects, Tampa, FL. "Every design decision that we made was carefully evaluated for its impact on the environment. For example, we had to weigh the distance a product would travel to get to the site (an air quality issue related to emissions) versus cost and quality. Trade-offs often came into play but there were also things that the team wouldn't compromise on, such as not using western woods to construct the project."
The three buildings that make up the centre are long and linear and almost match a true east-west orientation on the site. This measure maximized the northern exposures, which in turn aids with energy conservation. The structures are connected by a broad "loggia-style" breezeway that tempers the impact from the weather while providing covered spaces that can be used as additional meeting or exhibit areas. The site orientation and design of the buildings also drove the interior design and the grouping of functions that take place at the centre.
"We looked at the interior spaces and identified those that were used more continuously than others," Meyer states. "This enabled us to separate the functions, and thus the buildings, into three separate components. The administration/laboratory building is occupied throughout the day, the conference/exhibit area is used intermittently and the restroom facility is used only when needed by staff or visitors. By separating functions, we could save resources and budget in terms of HVAC and other requirements."
The long, linear design of the buildings was coupled with large, high windows to facilitate ventilation and to allow more natural lighting. While the administrative/laboratory and conference/exhibit buildings are air conditioned, it is rarely used because the flow of natural air throughout the space is so good. Clerestory windows in the restroom building, coupled with the design and minimal use, negated the use of air conditioning in that structure.
The interior is pristine and matches the exterior environment in both colour and form. All colours used in the project come from plant materials that grow on the preserve—native grass, pickerel weed, long-leaf pine and lichen. (Plant materials were gathered and matched by the paint company.) The blending of these colours—green, wheat and gold—combine with clean lines to create a very inviting atmosphere and a complex that nestles gracefully into the site.
In the reception area and the classroom, native pine wood panelling from a sustainable managed forest was used from the floor to chair-rail height. Above the panelling, the green-painted walls give the impression of the land rising to meet the forest. The wood ceiling, which features ceiling fans to promote air circulation and wood trim around the windows, provides a further connection to the surrounding landscape.
High-efficiency fluorescent lights were installed throughout the three structures. However, Meyer notes that these are often left unused because the flow of natural light through the windows provides enough illumination in the interior spaces. (The large overhangs reduce direct light into the spaces, which is appreciated on very warm days.)
Assistance with the CLC's construction came on numerous fronts. Many manufacturers and suppliers donated their products or lowered their costs significantly to help construct the project. The staff is assisted with ongoing work by a cadre of committed volunteers, many from Disney, who have and will continue to assist with restoration efforts at the preserve.
"We believe that we've constructed a building that will show others that sustainable design can be both beautiful and respectful of the natural environment," Young notes. "The principles that we followed could be easily replicated anywhere taking into account variances in climate and site conditions. We hope that both the centre and the preserve will be an inspiration to others to follow the course that we've charted."
Next time you're in Orlando, take some extra time to visit The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve. The short travel time from the main Disney properties, approximately 30 minutes, will put you in touch with a world filled with beauty, precious wildlife and a range of lessons to be learned. And, if you don't mind rolling up your sleeves, there's probably some restoration work to be done.