California Valley Solar Ranch
Location: California Valley California
The architectural experience of the site begins with a rhythm established along highway 58, as the lines of vineyards to the west slowly fall away and are replaced by the measured landscape of the solar field. Turning off of the pavement, the array parts and an access road is guided gently downhill along natural swale flowing through a sea of trackers. At the termination of this axis lies a clean, efficient shed structure clad in simple materials that opens towards the north for natural daylight. At the west end of this enclosure, the visitor center peeks out from beneath the protective shelter of the warehouse roof, hovering slightly above the plain as if to avoid any more trespass than is necessary onto this environment. This large exhibition space looks out over the former gypsum mine—a remnant of past ecological abuse now used to retain and filter storm runoff from the site. As the path leaves the visitor center, it crosses over a wash and leaves the remediated quarry to enter into the rolling hills that typify the landscape. On the crest of the hill, a bosque of trees draws the path around a ridge and away from the main array while promising a shady respite on the climb up the hill. The Overlook is less of a building than a fold in the earth: a direct response to the topographic character of the Carrizo Valley. Native grasses flow over the roof and visitors descend between earthen walls into an airy chamber framing a panoramic view.