Pahranagat NWR a desert oasis for birders and sustainability gurus alike

CTA Architects Engineers continues Pioneering Environments through our expertise in LEED, exceptional design, and client experience. The CTA-designed Visitor Center in the pristine Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Alamo, NV, was recently completed. The Visitor Center is a marvel of clean energy generation and usage, achieving Zero Net Energy (ZNE) and anticipating LEED Silver accreditation. Conservation measures implemented include upgraded building insulation, daylight harvesting, and ground-source geothermal HVAC. On-site renewable energy is provided by roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels.


Few landscapes are as contrasting as Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge’s lush wetlands and the surrounding Mojave Desert. Nourished by life-giving waters of Crystal and Ash Springs, Pahranagat NWR offers ideal wetlands and riparian habitats for thousands of migratory birds, numerous birds of prey, deer, and rare fish. In 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the value of the Pahranagat Valley and designated 3,916 acres of lakes, marshes, meadows and desert uplands as Pahranagat NWR. Later land acquisitions expanded the refuge to its present size of 5,382 acres.

Pahranagat NWR’s many recreational opportunities will bring visitors into close proximity with a diverse array of wildlife. Notably, 264 bird species have been recorded on the refuge, which is over half of all birds recorded in the state of Nevada, making Pahranagat NWR a popular destination for birders and photographers. Hiking trails cross through five different habitat types, giving visitors the opportunity to see meadows, marshes, lakes, streams, and desert within a single afternoon visit.

CTA_post_PahranagatNWR_SiteRenderings (2)The center’s central design theme included using elemental building materials and abstract rectilinear proportions in plan and elevation to reflect on the landscape’s majesty and oasis that is the Pahranagat Valley. It incorporates aspects that are important to the native populace such as an east-facing entry and banding to express the red-tailed hawk.

“This project was exciting because of all the factors at play. We sought inspiration from the cultural history of the area, the landscape, the forms, and the native wildlife. All of these were important from the very beginning to the end result,” architect Bryan Hallowell said. “Kudos to the Fish & Wildlife Service for being integral in the design process and pushing us to create something as culturally relevant as possible.”


CTA_post_PahranagatNWR_EnergyGraphs (3)The Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge AO/VCS is an example of truly integrated design. The USFWS required a LEED Silver certification but set a goal of achieving Zero Net Energy consumption. The design team realized the magnitude of the goal and immediately involved all key members of the design team including the owner, general contractor, architects, and engineers. Ideas from these team members were then evaluated for functionality, aesthetics, and performance. Energy modeling was used in tandem with early architectural modeling to inform orientation and building massing, as well as materials and systems. The result is a cost-effective, high-performance building that exceeds performance goals.

We now have a full year of energy data from Pahranagat, which shows the facility is well below Zero Net Energy consumption. The building pushed almost twice as much energy as it consumed back to the electrical grid over the past 12 months. While this building hasn’t been fully occupied for the entire year, the results are compelling. Energy generated on-site has exceeded the energy consumed for 10 of the 12 months. The building is performing more efficiently than expected and, though the photovoltaic system is still being optimized, the solar array is generating more energy than the building consumes during the first part of this summer.

CTA_post_PahranagatNWR_EnergyGraphs (1)     CTA_post_PahranagatNWR_EnergyGraphs (2)

CTA aspires to Architecture 2030, a challenge set forth to achieve carbon neutrality in construction by the year 2030. This project is already compliant with 2030 requirements and is on target to achieve all possible energy use reduction credits in the LEED v3 rating system.

CTA and the USFWS invite all comers to visit the refuge and experience the wonder of its incredibly diverse wildlife. Though the Visitor Center’s hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday through Sunday, the refuge itself is open 24/7/365.

Photos by Bryan Hallowell.

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