Home Environmental education GWWO designs addition for Pennsylvania nonprofit Berks Nature

GWWO designs addition for Pennsylvania nonprofit Berks Nature


GWWO Architects, a Baltimore-based specialist in cultural and educational facilities, including interpretive centers anchored in historic sites, shared images and design details for the Rookery, a $4.2 million extension from The Nature Place, base for environmental conservation nonprofit Berks Nature, which debuted last spring at Angelica Creek Park in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Also designed by GWWO, the LEED Gold-certified Nature Place opened in 2017 to local and critical acclaim (it won the AIA Baltimore Good Design = Good Business Award) and enabled Berks Nature to expand its programming focused on environmental stewardship. However, the organization quickly discovered that it still needed After space to meet increased demand for field trips, summer camps and community events. Initially, the construction of a new self-contained pavilion large enough to accommodate 300 students was considered; however, it soon became apparent to Berks Nature and the GWWO design team that an addition with an indoor-outdoor educational space located above an existing preschool building made the most sense because it “increased synergies within the building, reduced site disturbance, and made the project more environmentally and economically viable,” according to a press release.

A new rooftop addition provides a new elevated view of the surrounding wetlands. (Tom Holdsworth)
The Nature Place is a Berks County hotspot for field trips and summer camps. The new addition allows Berks Nature to welcome even more young visitors. (Tom Holdsworth)

The resulting Rookery, a word that describes a colony or breeding ground for birds or animals, increases Berks Nature’s available programming space fivefold with three new spaces dedicated to environmental education. On the roof of the existing building is a 2,100 square foot covered outdoor classroom connected to a 2,200 square foot indoor classroom via a functional glass wall. Together, these new indoor-outdoor learning spaces can accommodate up to 300 guests, much like what was envisioned for the original pavilion project. Joining the two new classroom spaces is a covered walkway below the addition that offers both unobstructed views of the surrounding wetland ecosystem and additional flexible programming space (plus an all-important fireplace to sit down). more-roasting.)

“A colony is a colony of nests. We envision the Rookery as a gathering place for our entire community of conservation allies,” said Kim Murphy, President of Berks Nature. “This additional space allows Berks Nature to dramatically increase our impact in the community by helping to connect thousands of people to nature.”

“This project plays a vital role in Berks Nature and GWWO’s missions to meaningfully connect people to their environment,” added Terry Squyres, Director of GWWO.

Indoor classroom at the Rookery. (Tom Holdsworth)
Rooftop covered classroom space at the Rookery. (Tom Holdsworth)

Featuring the same reclaimed mushroom wood siding as the original 2017 Nature Place building, the addition appears as a “natural extension” of the previous project and blends into the woodland wetland surroundings of the 90-acre Angelica Creek Park, a popular site for bird and nature watching. destination co-managed by Berks Nature and Alvernia University.

“Open-air spaces on the first and second floors allow the addition to be lightweight while doubling the total building area,” GWWO described. “Connection to nature as a central concept is evident in everything from built form and materials to interpretive signage and the experience of being immersed in nature inside the classroom or home. Rookery Bridge.” The Rookery, naturally, features a host of conservation-focused features – rain barrels, rain chains, daylight sensors, bird-friendly acid glazing, and the use of salvaged and recycled materials throughout – which not only collectively help Berks Nature to continue to tread lightly on the site, but are also meant to inspire visitors who might be interested in using similar sustainable design strategies in their homes, according to GWWO. (Interpretive panels and wall charts help illustrate the benefits of these different strategies.)

In the Rookery’s first four months, Berks Nature has hosted more than 3,000 students on field trips and another 1,350 students are expected to visit Nature Place this fall, a 67% increase from 2019 (the last year comparable due to the pandemic). ) Berks Nature’s enrollment in its popular Eco-Camps summer program is also up 41% from 2021.

In addition to its educational programming at The Nature Place campus at Angelica Creek Park, Berks Nature, a venerable organization established in 1974, focuses on land preservation, water protection, trail management, community gardens and other related businesses throughout Berks County. (Not to be confused with adjacent Bucks County in New Jersey, Berks County is located in southeastern Pennsylvania northwest of Philadelphia.)

Other nature centers and nature-focused educational facilities designed by GWWO, most but not all in the mid-Atlantic, include the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia, Maryland; the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington, Delaware; Killens Pond Nature Center, also in Delaware; the Everglades Visitor Center in Everglades National Park in Florida and the Cylburn Arboretum Vollmer Center in Baltimore.