Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center Moves Toward Completion

With installation quickly approaching, exhibit elements are reaching their final stages.

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center Moves Toward Completion
Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center Moves Toward Completion

by Jenny Kvapil, Project Coordinator January 15th, 2021

Over the past year, Ideum has been working with the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge to design and develop exhibits for the Refuge Visitor Center. The construction of the building is coming along, with completion anticipated in the next few months. The exhibits are following a similar schedule, with fabrication and content reaching their final stages. For everyone at Ideum, this is a very exciting moment in the life of a project: the ideas and concepts we’ve invested so much time and energy into are finally coming to life!

It’s been particularly exciting to watch the element we’ve been calling the “island” complete this journey. A little background will help illustrate the development of this multi-exhibit platform. As an Urban National Wildlife Refuge, Valle de Oro NWR uses an innovative and community-based conservation approach to deepen connections between people and nature.

In the concepting phase of this project, the first Refuge guidance we received was to make sure that a significant portion of exhibit space would function as a community gathering area. That’s why we dedicated a significant area to comfortable and flexible seating, soft carpet, outlets for charging personal electronics, storage for activity boxes for the Refuge’s youngest visitors, and an impressive mural wall.

This left us with a challenge: there were still many stories to tell in the 800 sq-ft exhibit hall. How could we incorporate interactive exhibits into the space while maintaining the dedicated and peaceful community gathering area? The answer came from our custom fabrication capabilities, in the form of an efficient and elegant “island cabinet” solution.

The island is long and narrow, approximately 20 feet in length and 4-5 feet high. It will be placed in the center of the exhibit space and will serve as a partition, keeping our community gathering space delineated and cozy. The island was also designed to reflect an abstracted mountain range echoing our region’s unique geography by incorporating angular shapes and planes. This mirrors the larger design of the building itself, which was envisioned to imitate the Sandia Mountains as seen from the Refuge.

The island is a picture of efficiency. Within the structure, we incorporated six unique experiences made possible by a cleverly designed open internal skeleton—a framework of supports that allow for air circulation and active electronic cooling and offering routes for cable management and space for mechanical interactives.

Three digital interactives are integrated into the island. One utilizes a 43” multitouch Ideum inline display to present an interactive artwork and an exploration of the Refuge’s history and founding. The second presents the changing Rio Grande in a pixelated art format on an LED panel, hidden behind a natural-looking and durable cloth overlay. The third presents stories told by Refuge friends and neighbors via an inline touch screen and handheld listening devices.

In addition to these seamlessly integrated digital interactives, the island will support a display cabinet for objects, as well as a large whiteboard through which visitors can share their thoughts with the Refuge and other guests. Finally, the island will be home to a large mechanical artwork, in which cleverly-designed sliders and gears will present the effects we can have on wildlife in our own backyards.

The island is currently undergoing final assembly and testing in Ideum’s Usability Lab. It is exciting to see such a team effort come together. The island was made possible through cooperative collaboration among talented Ideum departments and with the guidance and support from the Refuge staff, partners like the Friends of Valle de Oro, many community members, and the fantastic architects and general contractors CF Padilla-Brycon and Formative Architecture. We look forward to seeing guests interact with it when the Visitor Center is able to open to the public later this year!