Aldo Leopold Nature Center
Monona, Wisconsin

Every May through October, Aldo Leopold Nature Center provides programs for some 150 students daily, in naturalist-led school field trips, after-school programs, nature camps and special events. But in recent years, a mismatch had grown between the layout of the existing building and how the Center 's activities have evolved. Feeling the stress, ALNC began an organizational soul-searching effort.

prairie view

Our contribution to the process began by holding multiple listening sessions with those most familiar with the building and its limitations, to gather concerns and solutions. Along with our own evaluation of existing building conditions, we summarized all of this into a space-use program report for the ALNC board, as a framework to extend the discussion productively. Finally, we guided 'charettes' —hands-on design sessions— using large-scale drawings of the building and site, tracing paper, and dozens of paper cutouts of rooms.
staff design charette charette closeup
Staff and naturalists spent hours exploring alternative layouts, and a clear design direction emerged.

porch roofs with students
A large underutilized exhibit space was remodeled into four new classrooms with outdoor covered teaching patios. New windows at the long south-facing facade provide more wintertime passive solar heat, as well as broad views of the prairie beyond.
before the replanning process
(before, above) View from the west, showing the long, unused open area immediately adjacent, begging for an accessible connection to the outdoors.
relocated glass mural window
(above) The wall-sized glass mural was relocated from relative obscurity elsewhere to become a major feature of one of the new classrooms. The large space beyond is in regular demand for weekend weddings and other events.

interior of the preschool

Nature Preschool

Phase 2 of the Center's transformation was to build two classrooms for a new nature-based preschool.

This is only the second such program in Wisconsin;
the goal is for children to spend 50 to 75% of their time outdoors.

Other improvements: director's office, classroom kitchnettes, and new child-sized toiletrooms including one accessible directly from the outdoors

(left) An important goal was to retain the design integrity of the original timber-framed portion of the Center; now it serves at the main corridor and coatroom.

group of school children