Nature Shapes Design

Austin Cary Forest Stern Learning Center

The Austin Cary Learning Center enables the UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation to host a variety of educational programs as well as a wide range of events for organizations throughout Gainesville and North Florida. The original building accommodated around 7,000 people annually. When it burned down in a fire in 2011, UF found an opportunity to expand, increasing capacity to 25,000 annual users. They wanted the new building to uphold the spirit of its predecessor, embracing its natural forest surroundings and welcoming in the community.

Because the Austin Cary Forest is focused on sustainable forestry, the client challenged the Walker team to celebrate the forest through architecture. Actual Cypress tree trunks and heavy timber trusses frame the main entry, and storefront mullions emulate the branches of a tree reaching to the sky. Donated wood makes up the framing and siding of the building. The back deck reaches out over Lake Mize, inviting visitors to immerse themselves into the natural environment. With new fire-safety features to prevent future fires, the new Austin Cary Learning Center welcomes larger groups of students, staff, and visitors, inspiring them to embrace the forest that surrounds them.

The Austin Cary Learning Center enables the UF School of Forest Resources and Conservation to host a variety of educational programs as well as a wide range of events for organizations throughout Gainesville and North Florida. The original building accommodated around 7,000 people annually. When it burned down in a fire in 2011, UF found an opportunity to expand, increasing capacity to 25,000 annual users. They wanted the new building to uphold the spirit of its predecessor, embracing its natural forest surroundings and welcoming in the community.

Because the Austin Cary Forest is focused on sustainable forestry, the client challenged the Walker team to celebrate the forest through architecture. Actual Cypress tree trunks and heavy timber trusses frame the main entry, and storefront mullions emulate the branches of a tree reaching to the sky. Donated wood makes up the framing and siding of the building. The back deck reaches out over Lake Mize, inviting visitors to immerse themselves into the natural environment. With new fire-safety features to prevent future fires, the new Austin Cary Learning Center welcomes larger groups of students, staff, and visitors, inspiring them to embrace the forest that surrounds them.

Project Owner

University of Florida IFAS

Location

Gainesville, FL

Completion Date

April 2014

Project Size

5,000 SF

Cost

$1.29M

Contractor

The Brentwood Company

Delivery Method

Construction Management

Partners

MEPF: Moses & Associates; Structural: Structural Engineers Group; Civil: Causseaux, Hewett, & Walpole

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The community's physical and emotional ties to the site are strong and enduring.  After a 2011 fire claimed the conference center built by donors and volunteers in 1986 to replace the original building (also lost to fire), the University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation set out to create a new conference building reflecting the enhanced needs of current and future faculty, staff, students, and visitors. 

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The new conference center needed to continue to serve not only SFRC students and faculty; the broader community in Gainesville and North Florida also has a history and a future with the building.  Every year, thousands of people from numerous local organizations utilize the building for events ranging from lectures, symposia, and retreats to award banquets and weddings.

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