Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio (USA); unabridged Architecture, Bay St Louis (USA)

Wood is used throughout this facility to anchor the various buildings within their context, which is an ecologically critical bayou and marsh wetlands. The indoor-outdoor integration between classrooms, outdoor gathering spaces and transition zones is made consistent with the predominant use of southern yellow pine dimensional lumber, chosen given its availability and prevalence as a local Mississippi resource; also, locally sourced wood ensures that any future repairs can be easily accommodated.

Completed in early 2018, the Marine Education Center was designed with a focus on sustainability and resiliency after the original Marine Education Center was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A collection of buildings that serve as the educational and outreach center for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory includes outdoor and floating classrooms, laboratories, administration offices and a linked network of boardwalks and outdoor pavilions. Considering natural disasters and durability, the design focused on using and maintaining the land to serve as the first line of defence. The team sited buildings within the existing tree canopy, which could serve as a natural wind buffer, while the roofs are sloped to quickly shed rainwater. Low-impact materials were selected for the health of the building’s occupants and to avoid ocean contamination in the event of a natural disaster; common building materials including zinc and PVC were red-listed.

The buildings of the main campus are designed around a central courtyard, which serves as an outdoor classroom and informal gathering space. Composite wood slats create a shading device and provide visual interest, while porches are an important design component for sheltered outdoor walkways and teaching spaces. Tongue – and – groove wood decking provides flooring for the screened porch classrooms. A 200-foot-long cable suspension bridge connects the main campus to the outlying facilities, while protecting an ecologically sensitive forested bayhead. Inside the buildings, gapped wood ceilings are equipped with acoustical insulation.

The facility is approximately 2,800 square metres, and was built with a budget of $13 million.


Architect: Lake Flato Architects ; unabridged Architecture ; Landschaft Studio Outside

Construction: Starks Contracting Co., Inc.

Client: University of Southern Mississippi (USM), USA

Location: 101 Sweetly Drive, Ocean Springs, Mississippi 39564 (USA)

Realization: 2018

Built area (footprint): 2760 m2

Photo credits: Casey Dunn


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