ClientPA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Project Area10,000 square feet
This visitor and education center on the Youghiogheny River provides interpretation of the natural, cultural, recreational and historical features of the landscape and emphasizes environmental stewardship as a key theme.
Located adjacent to the falls, the building is positioned to take advantage of spectacular views and to connect visitors directly to the park. It serves as an interpretive lens for two significant natural landmarks, the falls and Ferncliff Peninsula located across the river. DCNR identified Ohiopyle State Park as a gateway to the Laurel Highlands region of the state and so the visitor center also offers an introduction to regional resources. Working with Civil & Environmental Consultants, SMP designed the facility to be an environmentally responsible building that attracts visitors and enhances understanding of the site, without overwhelming the natural landscape.
A Building that Grows from the Site
Designed with a low profile and distinctive relationship to the river’s edge, the visitor center is visible from the road as one approaches from the north or south. The footprint of the upper level entrance volume is limited, reducing the visual impact of the building and maintaining focus on the surrounding natural landscape. In addition to visitor services, the upper level of the building houses an ecological wastewater treatment system that serves to clean and recycle the wastewater generated by the building.
Connected to the lobby by an open stair, the exhibit wing extends out toward the river. Visitors The office wing occupies a linear structure at the lower level extending south from the entrance volume, and built into the slope. Clad in stone veneer, this is the most “grounded” element of the building.
An Interpretive Lens for the Park
The history of the area and the park is very much tied to the usage of, and attitudes about, the river. The building provides interpretation of the natural, cultural, recreational and historical resources of the landscape and serves as an introduction to regional resources. The educational mission of the building is fullfilled through both the environmentally responsible construction of the building and the inclusion of educational exhibits.
From the end of the exhibit wing, visitors have a clear view of the falls to the north, Ferncliff Peninsula across the river, and the boater launch area to the south. These views are a unique experience, providing vistas not available from other areas of the site.