From the Mekong River Delta and the Nile River to the islands of the South Pacific and the shores of Louisiana, coastal communities around the world are facing increased levels of uncertainty as sea levels rise and land subsides, putting people and businesses at risk. Organizations like the Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge, Louisiana are doing vital work to better understand how human and environmental factors are affecting the world’s deltas, rivers and coastal areas.
Resiliency-based solutions generated by researchers at the Water Institute are being applied globally as well as in the Institute’s own backyard, as coastal wetlands are lost at a rate of one football field every 100 minutes.
To better aid its important work, a new home for the Water Institute opened last year allowing researchers to more closely observe changes in the Mississippi River and its ecosystems. The new building joins the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the LSU Center for River Studies to comprise the 35-acre Baton Rouge Water Campus, a growing international hub for river and coastal research.
As the Water Institute researches resiliency strategies for mitigating future and environmental impacts to coastal communities, so too does the design of the building. Seasonally, the Mississippi River can rise to shore 40 feet, completely submerging the surrounding shoreline. The building was designed to sit above the maximum anticipated flood line; while the water rises and submerges the surrounding landscape, the building remains accessible and fully functional. Additionally, the design protects the building from intense solar heat gain with a lightweight shroud made of perforated metal scrim.
Surrounded by native cottonwoods and perched over the banks of the Mississippi River, the new 34,000-square-foot Water Institute sits adjacent to the old city dock that has long served as the cornerstone for local maritime trade.
The building’s all glass and steel aesthetic pays homage to the area’s freight industry, where ocean-going vessels off-load heavy cargo onto barges to be transported upriver or onto rail for inland shipment through Baton Rouge. The design creates an angular shape reminiscent of the industrial structures along the Mississippi river. The form builds from the Water Campus on the east to create a large aperture facing west over the river; a large overhang on the east creates a porch-like structure called a porte cochère. The resulting form creates an iconic structure visible from the highly trafficked I-10 highway bridge across the Mississippi.
The building’s first floor is fully glazed and recessed behind a series of v-shaped columns to create a setback for a continuous loggia around the building. With large windows along the first floor dock promenade, the wet lab for processing fieldwork investigations is visible to visitors and creates an opportunity to directly engage the public with tours and demonstrations. Open flexible office areas and co-working spaces with views of the river below create cutting edge research, office and collaboration spaces that support the Water Institute’s culture and mission. The second floor houses state-of-the-art office facilities and the third floor features an 8,000-square-foot conference center to host academic conventions, research conferences and private events.
The full project team includes:
• Perkins+Will (Design Architect) • Coleman Partners Architects, LLC (Architect of Record) • Stantec (Civil Engineer) • Wardlaw and Lasseigne, LLC (Structural Engineer) • Assaf, Simoneaux, Tauzin & Associates, Inc. (MEP Engineer) • The Lemoine Company (General Contractor)