The 6,300-sq-ft Knoch Knolls Nature Center—LEED Platinum certified and the only staffed nature center in a city of more than 144,000 people—was developed as a home base for nature exploration and a model of sustainability. Built in a park beside the DuPage River, it celebrates water with exhibits and architectural elements that immerse visitors in the river environment.

The center was designed with a river floor meandering through the exhibit area. A butterfly-shaped roof over the west end of the building gives artistic expression to the harvesting of rain that is collected in a 1,500-gallon cistern, located in the center of the exhibit lobby space. A 6-ft-tall aquarium that wraps half of the cistern is a “section” through the DuPage River and allows visitors to see below the surface of the water and observe fish and plants in their river habitat. They can also feel the river rocks underfoot in the main lobby area floor finish. Stones are grouted with shells and other elements shoveled from river.

The quality of materials was important to allow the building to withstand water events, the Central Illinois climate and the high volume of visitors. On the exterior, a wood rainscreen allows the elevation to breathe and ventilate. The same wood rainscreen on the inside provides a durable finish. The wood glue-laminated frame is uniquely designed to be exposed on both sides so it may weather the exterior elements and interior climate. Custom detailing has been incorporated to set large triangle windows between structural members while allowing wood to change through seasons, project members say. All steel connections for glue-lams have been detailed to prevent thermal bridging and provide a structural expression that is integral with the architectural design intent.

Knoch Knolls Nature Center

Naperville, Ill.

Key Players
Naperville, Ill., Park District
Lead Design Firm Wight & Co.
Contractor Wight & Co.
Structural Engineer/Civil Engineer/MEP Engineer Wight & Co.
Exhibit Planning & Design Bluestone + Associates
Safety Consultant Sheffield Safety & Loss Control LLC