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Tour the green building an Austin architect designed for a Wimberley summer camp

Experiential Building helps Young Judaea campers learn about sustainability

Experiental Building at Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley
Experiental Building at Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley
Whit Preston Photography

Summer-camp time is winding down about now, but it’s not too late to take note of a remarkable new building, designed by the award-winning local firm Sanders Architecture, that opened this year at Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley.

A 7,000-square-foot, multiuse activity space, The Experiential Building is a place where campers can, along with the regular curriculum focused on Jewish and Israeli culture, study and learn to appreciate sustainable design.

Sanders—who won the AIA Austin award and a Green Dot award for his design of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center information kiosk and another AIA Austin award for the restaurant Juniper—chose elements specifically to demonstrate broad sustainable design ideas. A two-story wing of the building uses a broad butterfly roof to capture rainwater into an onsite cistern; the water is used to irrigate the 2,300 square foot prairie roof over the one-story activity room wing of the building.

Windows are oriented to bring generous daylight into the building, connect interior spaces to the outdoors, and capture views of the live oak tree canopies on the site.

Solar photovoltaic panels are integrated into the building as shade awnings that protect south-facing windows from the harsh summer sun. Sustainability was also a requirement for the design and selection of materials and fixtures: locally sourced limestone, recycled aluminum and steel, energy efficient lighting, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, cork flooring, and even repurposed cypress trees from the Memorial Day floods in nearby Wimberley.

During the design and building processes, Sanders and camp director Frank Silberlicht had an ongoing dialogue about the importance of the building engaging the site and fitting into the long range master plan for the camp, which includes a “great lawn” on the north side of the Experiential Center.

Sanders said that locating the building among the stand of Live Oak trees made an important visual connection to the outdoors. He also located the building’s circulating areas, such as stairs, on the outside of the building to increase interaction with the elements. There is also an outdoor activity area, shaded by a canopy, in an upstairs space adjacent to the prairie roof.

CYJ will continue using the site for its summer camps, of course, but other groups can rent the building and the sprawling camp grounds the rest of the year for retreats and events—maybe even sustainability workshops.