Public transit and skiing trips. Two things you wouldn’t normally think of together. Who wouldn’t rather just throw their skis in the SUV and head off for the trails? Why take a bus?
Well, if you’re talking about Tahoe, traffic in the winter months can be a hassle around the ski resorts. Add to that the challenge of finding parking nearby, and taking a bus that will drop you off right in front of the resort starts looking very desirable.
Tahoe didn’t have an intermodal transit center, and passengers who needed to change buses were having to cross State Route 89, close to the intersection with busy State Route 28. There was no park-and-ride lot nearby, either.
To make it easier for people to get out of their cars, the county asked us to create an intermodal transit facility. The designated site on USFS land has a long history and has served a variety of purposes, including a trailer park in the 70’s and an elaborate turnaround for the old Truckee Railroad before that. Thirty years ago, members of the community planted trees there, and they were very concerned about saving those. So we sited the facility to impact the fewest trees possible and planted many new ones as well.
The idea of treading lightly on the site became our mantra for the design, driving every decision that we made. We minimized the facility’s footprint as much as we could by configuring the bus loop with passenger loading on both sides. Of course, that meant the roof couldn’t shed snow in any direction—the building has no back to it. People and vehicles would be moving all around the perimeter.
To relate to the natural setting, we wanted the roof to create a long, low horizon line set among the tall trees. To reinforce that, architecturally speaking, we wanted the structure to float, so it wouldn’t obstruct views of the landscape. We were inspired by the idea that the roof could literally be built like a boat, with long wooden slats along the underside. Supporting the roof on just a few stone pillars, allows views of the landscape to pass underneath. Then to maximize openness, we enclosed the waiting room with large, sliding patio-doors–set on a stone plinth, between tapered timber columns.
Tahoe has one of the highest snow loads of any place on the planet. Since the idea is to hold the snow all season, the roof is designed for 250 pounds per square foot. In the spring, the roof actively melts the snow, collects the water in gutters, and delivers it to a 4,000-gallon storage tank for irrigation and toilet flushing. Pervious concrete in the parking areas allows stormwater to pass directly back into the soil, while other areas are connected to an underground infiltration gallery that cleans the water before it goes back to the earth.
The building itself is simple, with a small office, an enclosed waiting area large enough for 40 people, and two unisex restrooms. Bicycle lockers are integrated into the wall of the facility. The parking lot is big enough for 130 cars.
Continuing the theme of treading lightly on the landscape, we aimed to reduce energy use as much as we could. Laminated solar cells are integrated into the roof, and handle most of the facility’s peak load—generating a little less in the winter, a little more in the summer. The roof is designed to enhance natural ventilation as well, with a clerestory that encourages warm air to escape during the summer season. The broad eaves of the roof provide shade in the warm months, but are situated to capture direct sunlight, filtered by the trees, in the cold months. Efficient heating is also provided by a radiant slab. Bronze plaques grouted into the granite walls of the building explain the sustainability features of the design.
Although it is strikingly modern in form, this building is intended to be wholly of Tahoe. The stone used in the battered walls and columns comes from the Sierras, and the timber is local as well. Interpretative graphics integrated into the windscreen at the outdoor waiting area tell the history of transportation in Tahoe, starting all the way back to the time when this part of the country was inhabited entirely by Native Americans.
The Tahoe City Transit Center has won national awards including the 2013 AIA Small Project Award, a Top Honor in the 2012 Western Red Cedar Architectural Design Awards, and one of the American Public Works Association’s Public Works Projects of the Year for 2013.