Brent Bailey
3 minute read

The energy-efficient facility is in harmony with its coastal environment.

The Marine Education Center at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, serves as an outreach and education facility where researchers have an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the ecologically critical bayou and marsh wetlands of coastal Mississippi.

Designing for sustainability and resilience

Maximizing opportunities to create a space that was naturally resilient as well as sustainable, the project team sited the center’s six new buildings tightly within the existing tree canopy, allowing the trees to serve as a natural wind buffer. The primary facility includes outdoor classrooms, laboratories, administration offices, assembly spaces, exhibition areas and a 200‐foot-long pedestrian suspension bridge.

the Marine Education Center in Mississippi

Considering both acute natural disasters and durability, the design centered on how to use and maintain the land to serve as the first line of defense. The team also assessed all building materials for their ability to withstand intense weather conditions and wear over time. Low‐impact materials were carefully selected for the health and well-being of the building’s occupants and to avoid contaminating the ocean in the event of a natural disaster.

In recognition of its significant achievements in design, function and sustainability, the Marine Education Center was presented a deign award for sustainability at the 2018 Mississippi Celebrates Architecture Symposium and Awards Ceremony in Jackson. Receiving the award were representatives of the Marine Education Center and Architecture of Bay St. Louis.

Recipients of the sustainability award for the Marine Education Center

From left to right:  Samuel Clardy, Marine Education Center; Jessie Kastler, Marine Education Center; Allison Anderson, FAIA; Shannon Gathings, Assoc. AIA, AIA Mississippi President; John Anderson, AIA; Anita Arguelles, Marine Education Center; Brent Bailey, 25x’25 and USGBC Mississippi.

Located within ecologically critical bayou and marsh wetlands of coastal Mississippi, the energy-efficient research and education center, indoor and outdoor exhibits and nature trails exemplify sustainable coastal building techniques in harmony with the coastal environment.

Notable features of the project

  • Readily available, locally sourced, dimensional Southern Yellow Pine is used as a primary structural component. Other local, durable materials were used to reduce maintenance and increase longevity.
  • Traditional building materials, including zinc and PVC, were red‐listed from the project, along with any materials that could potentially pollute the marine environment.
  • Sloping roofs are designed to quickly shed rainwater. Rainwater is collected off the main administration building’s roof into a 3,000-gallon underground fiberglass cistern and is used for flushing toilets.
  • A 5-foot construction limit around each building and the pedestrian suspension bridge was rigorously enforced to keep the natural ecosystems and landscape intact.
  • Each building is elevated on helical pier foundations with concrete pier caps, which help maintain natural site drainage while reducing the impact on the land.

Take a virtual tour of the Marine Education Center in its video:

The Marine Education Center leaders realized that not only is building green the right thing to do for the environment, but it is also the practical thing to do, lowering energy and maintenance costs, and increasing the marketability of the facility to increasingly sophisticated audiences and academic conferences.

Mississippi state law has been structured to forbid publicly funded construction projects from pursuing LEED certification, but the school has used LEED as a framework—and despite this barrier to formally recognize sustainable construction, project leaders will track the first year of energy use and compare performance against predicted metrics.

USGBC and the USGBC Mississippi Market Leadership Advisory Board thanks the AIA-Mississippi Chapter for the opportunity to participate in the ceremony and share this special and unique project with others.