“All buildings eventually end up in the ocean.” -Chris Snyder, Director of the Marine Education Center
Heeding this advice, the team began to conceptualize the design for the Marine Education Center at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. In 2005, the previous Center was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A second storm impacted the site during schematic design, and a third, Hurricane Nate, hit during construction. It was clear— the new facility would need to be resilient, sustainable and durable.
The Center exemplifies sustainable coastal building techniques in harmony with the marine environment. The use of wood was a primary focus of the design to unite the Center to the adjacent pine flatwood forest. The education facility includes outdoor classrooms, laboratories, administration offices, assembly spaces, exhibition areas and a pedestrian suspension bridge where researchers have an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the ecologically critical bayou and tidal wetlands of Mississippi.
The team consulted with biologists and site ecologists to assess the flora and fauna in three pre-determined zones, ultimately choosing the building zone with the least sensitive ecosystem, access to open water, and suitable building elevation to protect the buildings in the event of a natural disaster. The buildings were sited within the existing tree canopy, allowing the trees serve as a natural wind buffer. Considering natural disasters and durability, the design focused on using and maintaining the land to serve as the first line of defense.
Low impact materials were selected for the health of occupants and to avoid ocean contamination in the event of a natural disaster. White oak was used primarily on the interiors for millwork and accent paneling, and southern yellow pine was chosen for primary structures. Given its prevalence as a local Mississippi commodity, any future repairs can be quickly and easily accommodated.