Each year AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) awards ten projects the Top Ten Models of sustainable architecture and green design. These projects are awarded for their rare excellence, but they ought to exist as standards throughout architecture. Despite the fact that they are often large-scale and complex designs, they have low impact on the environment, protecting and enhancing it instead of causing destruction. If only all architects and contractors had the same level of commitment to sustainable building. One of the notable projects is a 2010 COTE winner: the water recycling center in Watsonville, CA. With a LEED Platinum certification, the Watsonville Water Resources Center is designed to convey that water is a finite, precious resource. The need for a water recycling program arose when ground water in Parejo Valley was being consumed faster than it could be replenished, causing saltwater intrusion in the water aquifer. The building and landscape weave a narrative about water conservation and raise public awareness through exhibitions and tours. For example, a water feature in the courtyard operates only when recycled water is available and drought-tolerant native plants throughout the landscape don’t rely on drinking water. The Watsonville Water Resources Center is a paradigm for water and energy conservation.
The 16,000 square foot building, designed by WRNS Studio of San Francisco, provides a joint workspace for three independent departments to coordinate action on water management, and includes a water quality lab and education space. Accordion-like glass walls open to the landscape, creating natural ventilation and creating an indoor-outdoor relationship. The two NanaWall SL70 systems extend both the large conference room and the employee dining room onto a shared exterior patio, for larger public gatherings. The Watsonville Water Resources Center demonstrates that we must begin any initiative with ourselves; the resources center is a didactic extension of the water recycling plant it supports. Not only is it an important management center for water distribution and water quality, the building itself is low-impact and environmentally friendly with a COTE award and Platinum LEED certification under its belt!