AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

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Government Canyon Visitor Center

The primary entry, shown in this photo, draws visitors to the screened exhibit space elevated above grade to minimize surface-flow disturbance along the native-plant courtyard.
Photo credit: Chris Cooper


  • Location: Helotes, TX
  • Building type(s): Interpretive Center
  • New construction
  • 4,240 ft2 (394 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Rural setting
  • Completed October 2005

Government Canyon Visitor Center forms the gateway to the 8,600-acre Government Canyon State Natural Area. It includes an exhibit hall, a park store, classrooms, offices, and an outdoor pavilion.

Government Canyon lies along the Balcones Escarpment on the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for the city of San Antonio, in an area under immense development pressure. The goal of the project, a karst aquifer preserve, was to protect and restore the natural landscape while creating high-use, low-maintenance, and economical structures that reinforce the mission of the Natural Area.

This project was chosen as an AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Project for 2007. It was submitted by Lake|Flato Architects, in San Antonio, Texas. Additional project team members are listed on the "Process" screen.

Environmental Aspects

The design team aimed to minimize impacts on the landscape and fragile water resources and to do more with less. The development was concentrated to reduce landscape water usage and physical impact on the site. Extraneous space was eliminated, reducing material use, energy use, first cost, operations cost, and maintenance needs. Exhibit and circulation spaces, originally programmed as indoor spaces, were designed as sheltered and shaded outdoor spaces, accepting summer breezes but protected from north winds. These spaces are not air-conditioned, reducing conditioned space by 35% and further reducing material and energy costs.

Rainwater collected from the project roof is filtered and used for both landscape irrigation and wastewater conveyance. The gravity-flow water system is coupled with solar-powered water pumps. All stormwater runoff from parking lots is distributed through vegetated filter strips and retained on site.

The structures make extensive use of local and regional materials while evoking the historic uses of the former ranch site. The main exhibit space was built using materials and technologies traditionally used by ranchers in cattle pens and fencing, while the stone walls echo the historic stone fences found on the site.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by Texas Parks and Wildlife, State government
  • Typically occupied by 6 people, 40 hours per person per week; and 1,173 visitors per week, 2 hours per visitor per week


Open space preservation, Stormwater management, Water harvesting, Efficient fixtures and appliances, Efficient irrigation, Drought-tolerant landscaping, Massing and orientation, Glazing, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, Adaptable design, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Thermal comfort

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Last updated: 4/23/2007

Our thanks to the ENERGY STAR program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to the U.S. Department of Energy, and to BuildingGreen, Inc. for hosting the submission and judging forms.

For more information about the AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects, contact AIA/COTE. For help on how to use this Web site, contact .

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