Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center

Renovation & Addition

Originally, the Carlsbad Caverns were used to mine bat guano for fertilizer, and visitors and cave explorers were lowered 700 feet into the caves in guano buckets. In 1923, Carlsbad Caverns became a national monument, and in 1930, a national park. It was during this era that elevators were built to transport visitors back to ground level after entering the cave through walkways. A Mission-66-style visitor center was later built in the 1960’s.

In 2000, BRS was hired to design the renovation and addition to the existing building. The addition had to accommodate the flow and experience of visitors as they passed through the building to the cave, either via the elevators or through the natural entrance. The design also includes a new concept for food service in the concessions portion of the building and easily accessible restrooms at the entry area.

The existing building, while structurally sound, was completely beyond its useful life with respect to all systems and components, with the exception of the elevators. The new design utilizes the existing structure but adds new restrooms, windows, roofing and building systems to bring it up to current code and ADA compliance. An addition was required to place restrooms at the entrance, while the existing enclosed porch was removed to open up windows to the display area, effectively resulting in no increase in footprint size. This was a major objective since the center sits directly atop the resource.

A sustainable design approach has been applied, including reuse of the existing structure, daylighting with skylights, water-saving fixtures in the restrooms, and passive and active solar. A solar photovoltaic array laminated in glass is used to form the entry panel, allowing daylight to enter while producing electricity used to light the lobby area. Two large HVAC units utilize an energy-saver control to bring in cool outside air at night, and a small non-hydraulic elevator eliminates contamination with its oil-free system. The project met the National Park Service’s high standards for design and sustainability.

Project at a Glance


Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico


National Park Service


$7.6 Million



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