Advancing the Education of Young Architecture Graduates through Foreign Travel-Study

Cavin Family Traveling Fellowship Program 2012
Chica Wetlands Visitors Center

The Wetlands Center is a hypothetical project that is proposed for the purposes of the 2012 Cavin Fellowship. This is not a real project and contestants may not contact city, local or state agencies for information or other residents that may have knowledge or interest in the wetlands.

Program Elements
Materials (Downloads)
Stage One
Stage Two

Existing Site


“Bordered on one side by Pacific Coast Highway and oil fields and houses on the other, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve wetlands are a 300 acre coastal sanctuary for wildlife and migratory birds. There's a wooden bridge crossing over a tidal inlet and a 1.5 mile loop trail providing spectacular wildlife viewing.

Over 8,000 years ago, Native Americans lived on bluffs overlooking these wetlands much has changed since then. In the more recent past, Southern California once counted 53,000 acres of wetland areas. It is down to 13,000 acres now. 

Progress and growth has taken its toll to the tune of a 91% loss of wetlands in California, more than any other state.  Many migratory birds are dependent on the remaining wetlands, with 20% of North America's migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway. Birds wintering in California's wetlands have declined from 60 million to 2 million, largely because of destruction of this habitat.  

New progress was recently made through the construction and opening of a $100 million bridge overpass to allow an inlet from the Pacific Ocean to be built and opened to the wetlands, allowing for the first time in over 100 years, the ocean waters to enter the wetlands located on the east side of Pacific Coast Highway. With the hopes of refreshing and restoring an integral and significant habitat key to this Pacific flyway stopover for endangered birds, the experiment was financed by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, in trade for expansion and acquisition of additional coastal land for port use.

For the Pacific flyway as a whole, there has been some improvement over the past ten years, partly because of the end of a multi-year drought in the northern breeding areas for these birds, but also because of a successful effort to restore California wetlands. 

Over the past decade, there has been a 30% decline in the commercial landings of fish that depend on wetlands in California. There was once a very active and productive fishing industry in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but today it is almost non-existent. This is largely due to the loss of most of our coastal wetlands.  

163 pairs of Endangered Belding's Savannah Sparrows live, breed and nest at Bolsa Chica.  Look for rare Light-footed Clapper Rails which have recently been spotted.  On any day, you might see Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, White and Brown Pelicans, Avocets and Black-necked Stilts, to name a few.  

In the fall and winter seasons, Lesser Scaups, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks and Common Loons come to visit.  Tours are given on Saturday mornings, through several groups.”

Summary by David Carlberg
Amigos de Bolsa Chica
January 31, 2005



The new visitor’s center will provide a recognized identity and guest services to the community furthering the mission of habitat restoration and sustainable building practices. The design of the new visitor’s center must stay within the site boundary to be no more than 300' from the existing bridge improvements to minimize impact. The existing parking pad and bridge are located at +10 above mean sea-level. Designs may consolidate the program or disperse the program on the site as appropriate for the intended design concept. Designs shall capitalize on passive energy systems and are encouraged to investigate the use of recycled or recyclable materials considering prefabrication to minimize on site construction and the long term disruption to wild life.

The wetland site is open to the sea and relies on daily tidal flushing for ecological stability. The tide ranges approximately 3' positive from mean sea-level at high tide inundating the marshlands and falls below mean sea-level at low tide exposing more sensitive habitat.

Designs may intrude into the tidal area however impact and fluctuation in sea level must be anticipated. A long-term minimum 5' rise in overall sea level should be accommodated for use of the facility in the next 30 years due to projected global warming.

Public access is limited to bike and pedestrian paths with no direct foot traffic allowed in the tidal area or nesting ground. Improvements that extend into habitat areas should be open mesh, bar grate or other open materials to minimize shading of habitat below.

Project Site

Site Constraints

Program Elements

Interpretive Museum
The exhibit space contains animations, full size replicas of local wild life, dioramas showing ecological systems, historic documents and video monitors for short films. Immediate access to the public with controlled natural light desired as glare on glasses cases and monitors is to be avoided. The collection consists of 30 3’ by 3’ by 10’ tall exhibit towers that include space for information, displays and objects behind glazed panels. These exhibit towers may not be outside exposed to the elements but may be arranged in a singular space or along a public traffic path.

Exhibit Towers

Museum Support
Back of house space with material storage, work bench and tool locker. Loading and access to be segregated from public access.

Gift Shop
Glass cases and counter space for display. Open floor space for merchandise display and souvenirs. Provide backroom storage adjacent to the Museum Support space. The shop provides bird watching literature, rental optics and audio tour rentals.

Conservancy Office
Private office for the director and staff assistant locate off of the main traffic path. The office must have direct connection to the biological support and research spaces.

Biological Research
Laboratory space for storage and processing biological samples gathered in the wetlands. The spaces should be viewed through a secure window from the lobby or exhibit space. Examination room for visiting veterinarian to treat sick or endured wildlife collected on the site. The space will provide Incubation room for abandoned eggs. Storage and support clean area. Access to exterior without crossing public spaces required.

Staff Restroom
Staff only separate from public use adjacent to staff kitchen.

Staff Kitchen/lunchroom
Kitchenette for staff use and visiting researchers

Public Restrooms
Adjacent to the lobby space serves all public functions. Secondary access from the outside must be provided to allow use during off hours.

Community Room
Provide a Public meeting room for group activities and orientation sessions for school field trips, conservancy meetings and presentations.

Café/Snack Bar operated by external vendor. Deliveries and trash removal will be by hand truck. Design to accommodate loading space and trash enclosure adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway.

Nesting Ground Enclosure
Designs must provide a replacement to the existing chain link fence that keeps the general public out of the nesting ground protects habitat. The nesting ground is a prime viewing location that should be visually accessible but provide a physical barker to the public.

Nesting Ground Protected Habitat

Public and Staff Parking
The design may use the existing parking lot or propose a replacement of the parking in an alternative location or configuration. Designs may use the existing parking location as a building pad, open space or remain as parking. Designs must provide 30 parking spaces and two bus spaces for school bus access. Bike racks to be located throughout the site development.

Pedestrian Bridge
The Existing pedestrian bridge is located at an elevation of +10'. The wood bridge may remain or be replaced with an alternate design that coordinates with the proposed design. Any new bridge construction should be minimally invasive to the landscape and should require limited construction time and access to the wetland area during construction.

Existing Pedestrian Bridge

External exhibits/signage points
A guest entry orientation point for signage and graphical information is to be provided at both sides of the pedestrian bridge and adjacent to the protected nesting ground.

Program Summary

Interpretive Museum 3,000 s.f.
Museum Support 500 s.f.
Gift Shop 500 s.f.
Conservancy Office
      Conservancy President 150 s.f.
      Staff Office 100 s.f.
      Work Room 100 s.f.
Biological Research
      Water Lab 200 s.f.
      Animal Care Lab 200 s.f.
      Research Office 150 s.f.
      Storage 150 s.f.
Staff Kitchen/lunchroom 200 s.f.
Staff Restroom 100 s.f.
Public Restrooms 300 s.f.
Community Room 2,500 s.f.
      Kitchen 200 s.f.
      Dining Area 800 s.f.
Total Net Area 9,150 s.f.
Maximum Gross Area Interior Space 14,000 s.f.


33 Degrees 41 Minutes 44.64 Seconds N
118 Degrees 2 Minutes 46.56 Seconds W


Huntington Beach has a Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csb). The climate is generally sunny, dry and cool, although evenings can be excessively damp. In the morning and evening, there are often strong breezes, 15 mph (24 km/h). Ocean water temperature average 55 °F (13 °C) to 65 °F (18 °C). In the summer, temperatures rarely exceed 85 °F (29 °C). In the winter, temperatures rarely fall below 40 °F (4 °C), even on clear nights.[3] There are about 14 inches (360 mm) of rain, almost all in mid-winter. Frost occurs only rarely on the coldest winter nights. The area is annually affected by a marine layer caused by the cool air of the Pacific Ocean meeting the warm air over the land. This results in overcast and foggy conditions in May and June.


File Downloads (PC: right mouse click save link as, Mac: control-click save link as)

Site Model:
SketchUp Site Plan
DXF Site Plan
DWG Site Plan

Bolsa Chica Display System (Exhibit Towers) :
SketchUp Display System Model
DXF Display System Model
DWG Display System Model
3D Studio (3DS) Display System Model

Display System Textures (zipped)

Stage One

Thursday March 15, 2012 5:00pm. PST -Monday March 19, 2012 5:00pm. PST

Entrants shall upload 4 -20”x 20” jpg images to the website at 150 dpi.
(3,000 x 3,000 pixels exactly, RGB)
Please read detailed instructions!

The boards must be uploaded by 5:00pm Monday March 19, 2012. The website becomes very busy starting around 4:00pm so plan to post early. Do not contact the Fellowship with file problems or uploading difficulties. Contestants should check out access to the site early.
The Fellowship has provided a range of digital files that include the site and exhibit towers. These files were created in Sketchup 8 and have been saved in a range of file types.

Entries will be reviewed by the jury and a short list of between 4 and 6 finalists will be selected by the jury. The Cavin Family Traveling Fellowship will not respond to individual questions once the competition has started. Files must be uploaded by the deadline described on the website or they will not be considered with no exceptions. Do not put your name or other identifying markings on the presentation boards! Boards that are identifiable will be disqualified!

Stage Two

Finalists will print out and mount their presentation boards on foam-core.
Final presentation will be on the campus at the California State Polytechnic University Pomona April 6, 2012. A lecture by Jury member Edward Mazria will precede the final presentation that will take place at 12:30pm at Cal Poly. Successful finalists are responsible for their own travel arrangements for the presentation. Finalists can apply to the Cavin Fellowship for up to $200 of documented travel expenses. If a candidate chooses not to attend their entry will be disqualified and not considered for the $10,000 prize.

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