The Great Smoky Mountains Institute, located just inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Eastern Tennessee, has connected people with nature for 50 years. Seeking to expand their programs, they recently acquired 194 acres adjacent to the park on which to create a second campus. As a framework for the residential environmental learning center design, Hennebery Eddy developed a campus master plan that provides for learning, gathering, dining, and overnight accommodations for up to 250 guests plus office, meeting, and support space for staff. The project is designed to pursue Living Building Challenge certification and is envisioned as a regenerative campus that both restores habitat and operates carbon positive.
The site is planned as two distinct areas. The 152-acre “backcountry,” which borders the park, is heavily forested, steep terrain and will largely be preserved for habitat and hiking. A 42-acre “campus” to the north, where the majority of buildings will be constructed, features a rolling terrain with a large, central field cradled by successional forest. The campus will be divided into three zones: arrival, main campus, and the farm — where food will be produced for use in both a demonstration kitchen and the campus dining room.
Site planning takes cues from the once-thriving Cherokee villages of Eastern Tennessee, which typically saw residential groupings around a central gathering space. Campus buildings are similarly sited at the successional forest edge around a central meadow, which provides a unique opportunity to establish a wildflower and grassland meadow benefiting reptiles, songbirds, and raptors. Buildings are carefully sited to balance grading, preserve existing vegetation, offer dramatic views of the Smoky Mountains, and maximize opportunities for passive heating, passive cooling, and solar energy generation. Regional forms and materials are emphasized, blending simple gables with deep porches and a palette of glass, wood, and stone.