Sustainability Highlights

The design of Vesterheim Heritage Park and Vesterheim Commons has several built-in features that focus not only on creating spaces that are cost-effective to maintain over time, but also help to contribute to overall environmental sustainability. 

Vesterheim worked closely with a team of architects, landscape architects, engineers, and consultants to set sustainability goals for these projects. Here are some key features of Vesterheim Heritage Park and Vesterheim Commons that have been designed with a focus on sustainability.

Operational Energy Efficiency

Vesterheim Commons is being designed to use both passive and active strategies to make for a high-performance building that uses energy wisely, and helps to lower operational costs in the long-term

The building’s distinctive marquee provides shading to help keep the first-floor spaces cooler in summer months. During winter, when the sun is at a low angle, natural daylight provides passive solar heat to this space.


Operationally the building will include high-efficiency HVAC systems, lighting, appliances, and building control strategies.

Strategic placement of windows within the building takes advantage of natural daylight in public spaces, while keeping collections areas at acceptable light levels.

Well insulated walls and high-performance glass helps to keep the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Daylight Modeling Studies

The design of Vesterheim Commons used daylight modeling studies to evaluate daylight quality, quantity, and distribution through the building, and identified opportunities to better coordinate natural daylight with electric lighting for potential energy saving.

Embodied Carbon Emissions and Massed Timber Construction

What is Embodied Carbon? Embodied Carbon is defined as the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the manufacture, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials. A sustainability goal of this project is to use construction materials and strategies that lower embodied carbon emissions. One key construction material being used in Vesterheim Commons is a massed timber framework.

The use of a massed timber building component not only fits with Vesterheim’s narrative and the extensive use of wood in its historic buildings and in the Folk Art School, but it also allows for the ability to use sustainably harvested wood as the primary building framework.

The exposed structure of a massed timber framework requires fewer interior finishes and chemicals, and therefore also has an impact on indoor air quality.

Massed timber construction offers improved insulation performance compared other structural materials, less energy in the manufacturing process, less transportation costs if sourced locally, and because of its relative light weight, requires a less substantial foundation than other building methods.

Site and Landscape

Vesterheim Heritage Park uses permeable paver systems in its design to capture and gradually release rainwater so as not to overwhelm Decorah’s storm sewer system. This helps to protect the Upper Iowa River watershed.

Improved soils and the incorporation of native perennials and trees help Vesterheim Heritage Park to hold more moisture in the ground, thereby helping to control runoff and erosion.

The lighting systems in Vesterheim Heritage Park and around Vesterheim Commons are designed to provide safe illumination for evening events, while at the same time controlling light pollution to the nearby residential light pollution to the nearby residential neighborhood.

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Need Help Now?

If you want to speak to someone about how you can support Vesterheim’s bold new future, call Diane Wagner or Kim Toussaint.

Diane Wagner: 563-382-9681 x103

Kim Toussaint: 563-382-9681 x105

A Re-imagined, Open, and Accessible Heritage Park

The first major project of the Strong Roots | Bold Future campaign is the re-imagining of Heritage Park, the outdoor exhibit and program space for Vesterheim’s 12 historic buildings. Heritage Park opened in summer 2021. Guided by the Snøhetta master plan, Heritage Park has been designed by Damon Farber Landscape Architects to be an accessible and open public space reminiscent of Norway’s forests and glades. Here, people can connect with one another amidst tangible historic buildings set in nature.

Beginning at the plaza that depicts the 1825 voyage of immigrants on the ship Restauration, meandering pathways will guide visitors around gentle glades, past a community amphitheater, and through the expanded parkwhere history comes alive by experiencing how Norwegian pioneers lived.

Special care has been given to create an environmentally sensitive community park with native plantings and woodlands appropriate to this Driftless Area of America’s Midwest, permeable pavers, and sustainable stormwater management.