Architects: GWWO Architects
Location: Wilmington, Delaware, USA
Structural Engineer: MacIntosh Engineering, Inc.
MEP Engineer: Mahaffy & Associates, Inc.
Civil Engineer: Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, LLP.
Project Year: 2009
Project Area: 13,900 sqf
Photographs: Robert Creamer
The new DuPont Environmental Education Center is part of efforts to restore marshlands along the Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware, while creating economic vitality, enhancing the environment and promoting public access. The site for the new facility is an open expanse of reclaimed wetland located within the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge at the southernmost edge of Wilmington’s downtown. Housing exhibits, classrooms and offices for nature education and related recreation activities, as well as community meeting and gathering space, the building enhances and encourages the relationship between urban development along the waterfront and the natural environment.
The client’s goal was “to create a symbiotic relationship between urban development along the waterfront and the natural environment.” To fully realize the client’s objectives it was important to locate the building within the refuge. Elevated on piloti above the marshlands, the design responds to the dynamics of the natural systems—tidal river and wetlands—as well as infrastructural elements: an adjacent railway, high voltage power lines, and multiple utility rights of way. Visible from major transportation routes, including two interstate highways, the building acts as a beacon marking the terminus of the city’s river-walk. The center is immediately a sentinel standing guard over the refuge and a gateway between the urban environment and the last vestige of natural marshland. The detailing of the bridge and building, suggestive of the nearby working railroad bridge and the industry that dominates adjacent sites, is juxtaposed with the framed view of the refuge that greets visitors as they approach, highlighting the tenuous connection between man and nature.
As the building’s primary exterior material—with natural cedar shakes set in elegant contrast to red-stained vertical cedar slats and v-groove cedar siding—wood was an ideal choice for achieving the warm and modern, yet natural, aesthetic desired by the client. The longevity of its beauty, maintained even as it weathers, was considered particularly relevant in the context of the dynamic natural site. Cedar was favored for its durability and resistance to decay and infestation, which will prove critical given the wetlands setting.
From within, windows on the north façade frame views to the city while the south opens toward the natural setting. Large expanses of glass provide an abundance of daylight to reach the interior spaces, while the large roof overhang and viewing decks provide shade to the interior during summer months. The exterior circulation tower provides visitors with a constant connection to nature through the vertical wood slats. Specific views are framed in all directions, highlighting key features within the landscape as they move between levels. At the lowest level visitors are welcomed into the marshland by a boardwalk to experience the wildlife first hand.