The Sterling Forest Visitor Center serves as the gateway to a 15,800 acre wildlife preserve, an historic iron mine and foundry site and the largest bloc of unbroken deep forest habitat in the Hudson Valley region. The design program for the Visitor Center building called for a form and material palette reminiscent of State Park structures built in the 1930’s and consistent with Park Agency goals for resource conservation and responsible environmental design.
The building was sited at the head of a ravine emptying into the south shore of Sterling Lake. This location enabled the design team to include ground floor auditorium functions and ample archive storage areas while maintaining the “low slung” character of a rustic shelter. As you walk through the building to the Observation Deck, the grade drops providing a commanding, panoramic view of the lake. The floor plan offers the visitor unimpeded access to the Exhibit Hall and other public areas in full view of the receptionist. Administrative and educational functions occupy two wings extending east and west from the Lobby, to allow for future expansions.
The Park includes old growth and new growth woodlands and blighted stands of Eastern Hemlock. The visitor center was seen as an opportunity to showcase conservation strategy and example responsible uses of natural resources. Twenty “standing dead” hemlock trees were harvested from the preserve, transported to a timber frame shop and fashioned for use in the primary column grid for the building. In addition to the Hemlock columns, the design incorporated Pratt Trusses fabricated from Douglas Fir and steel tension rods, reminiscent of foundry buildings and railroad trestles present in the area from the early 1800’s.
On the interior, the remains of a log cabin constructed of “wormy” Chestnut were purchased and milled to supply the moldings and trim throughout the building interior. Other design features include operable clearstories for natural light and ventilation, supplemental radiant floor heating and “smart building” technologies to manage water and energy use.