Tahoe City Transit Center

Tahoe City Transit Center

This new transit center is a vital step toward achieving a sustainable regional transportation network. In the spirit of doing more with less, our design transcends the simple right-sizing of program elements and envisions a new kind of transit center, one which treads lightly on the land; the resultant building form is idiomatically modern and iconic of transportation, but also fundamentally of its place.

At the turn of the last century, Lake Tahoe became a scenic holiday destination. The region has since become a year-round residential community as well as a popular recreational retreat for the roughly 11.5 million people living within a four-hour driving distance. As a result, traffic congestion and pollution have begun to threaten Tahoe’s natural resources and beauty. To encourage greater reliance on public transportation, the Placer County commissioned us to design a new transit center in Tahoe City.

Timeless. Beautiful. Permanence. Sanctuary.
These are qualities not often associated with transit architecture, but Placer County wanted something special for the Tahoe City Transit Center (TCTC). They understood that the degree to which the TCTC appeals to visitors and local riders is likely its most profound contribution to regional sustainability and support for public transit. Toward that end, our design strategy focused on how the facility could bolster a sense of pride in using public transit.

The idea of treading lightly on the land was our mantra and drove every design decision. We minimized the facility’s footprint by configuring the bus loop with passenger loading on both sides, with a site layout that incorporates existing trees and established walking and cycling paths. The stone used in the battered walls and columns comes from the Sierras, and the timber is local as well. To further relate to the natural setting, we wanted the roof to create a long, low horizon line among the tall trees; we wanted it to “float.” Shaped like a boat, with long wooden slats along the underside, the roof is supported by a few stone columns to allow views of the landscape to pass underneath. Overall, the design complements the unique mountain character of the Lake Tahoe area in a way that is modern and iconic of transportation but also, unquestionably, of its place.


A primary goal of the TCTC was to help the facility sustain its own operation by making use of natural resources. Working with project engineers from Placer County, we explored ways the design could utilize three fundamental natural resources: air, rain (and snow), and the sun. The form of the transit building captures these resources through passive strategies (such as operable windows, overhangs, and solar orientation), as well as active systems for environmental controls and water management. With its narrow floor plate, high-performance insulated glazing, large operable windows, and thermally massive walls, the TCTC adapts easily to the seasons. In addition, the shape of the building is uniquely suited to leverage a myriad of sustainable goals. The building itself exhibits a resource conservation ethic that encourages the visitor to enjoy and understand these unique connections to the natural environment through efficient and beautiful green design. The roof is designed to hold snow up to 250 pounds per foot. A snow melt system around the edge of the roof gradually melts the snow, and a rainwater harvesting system collects the water in gutters, stores it in a 4,000-gallon cistern, and reuses it for irrigation and toilet flushing.

The building conserves energy in a number of ways. Laminated solar cells are integrated into the roof, supplying most of the facility’s peak load. Operable windows and a clerestory facilitate natural ventilation. The broad roof eaves provide shade in the warm months; in the cold months, the angle of the roof allows direct sunlight, filtered by the trees, to illuminate the narrow floor plate. Thermally massive walls, high-performance insulated glazing, and radiant heating further reduce energy consumption.

Sustainable landscape strategies include pervious pavement in the parking areas, use of local materials, and low-water native planting and vegetation.

Interpretative graphics tell the history of transportation in Tahoe. A series of bronze plaques explain sustainable design strategies, helping visitors to understand their connection to the natural environment.