This 14,000 SF information & welcome center offers an educational component for the West Tennessee Solar Farm, which is a model of sustainable and energy-driven design.
In 2012, the West Tennessee Solar Farm officially began generating power. The 5-megawatt facility, developed by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, is located on Interstate-40 about 30 miles east of Memphis. The 21,434 solar panels were arranged around an open meadow intended as the site for a future visitor center designed to educate the public about solar energy in Tennessee. This center would be accessible 24-7 to local visitors, tourists and the millions of motorists who drive by the solar farm annually.
The new State-run visitor center houses four related functions: a Tennessee Welcome Center with reception, tourism displays, restrooms and staff spaces; an Information Center featuring an interactive renewable-energy exhibit; an attached Vending structure and an open-air covered Picnic Terrace. The large entry canopy can shelter an entire school group on a field trip. The radial site plan, including the main building, a storage building with service yard, picnic pavilions and pads and access walkways, responds to the solar farm’s linear geometry. The drives and parking areas were designed under a separate contract. The west-bound drive system was installed in 2014; the eastbound, with its highway overpass, is a future project.
Informed by the futuristic look of the solar farm itself, the architecture is sleek and sculptural, even stealthy, when viewed from the 70-mile-an-hour Interstate highway. The glass-enclosed information space, the focus of the Center, offers an almost 360-degree vista of the surrounding solar panels. Oriented towards I-40, the colorful LED-lit energy exhibit becomes a prominent design element visible from the highway. Angled walls, a subtle gesture directed toward the adjacent Interstate, and cantilevered roof overhangs shade the glass walls.
The project exceeds the Tennessee Sustainable Design Guidelines for Land Management, Water Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Material Use and Indoor Environmental Quality. Since the building is powered from the solar farm’s electric grid, roof-mounted solar panels were not installed. The facility, offering an educational component for the West Tennessee Solar Farm, is a working example of sustainable and energy-driven design. .