Designer: Beth Mitchell
Interiors: Marni Rushing, IIDA, LEED AP
Client: Eastern Carolina University
The mission of the UNC Coastal Studies Institute is to be a model of sustainability through its architecture, building systems, and through the research it conducts. The facility provides a venue for inter-institutional collaboration and offers a new national resource for coastal education. The building was designed to minimize its impact on the land, but to also anchor itself to the place – an existing landscape of fragile wetlands and waterways. The building’s form is a simple bent bar elevated above the land. The form was derived from the site by orienting the long face of the bar to the south and bending it to align with and capture a view down an existing canal. It hovers over a concrete plinth which raises the ground floor above the 100 year flood plain.
The plinth employs a series of concrete walls to create site extensions into the landscape which also function as places for gathering and outdoor education. The bent bar form acts as a medium for viewing and experiencing the expansive landscape through its use of indoor-outdoor spaces. The articulation of the bar was achieved by subtracting layers to create outdoor covered spaces at each end and overhangs on the north and south glass curtain wall openings. Gathering spaces for collaboration reside at the ends of the bar where there are expansive views across the wetlands.
The harsh and severe coastal environment provided inspiration for the building’s design as well as an opportunity to create a facility that encourages interaction among the students, faculty, and the public. Organized into three levels, all public spaces are concentrated on the lower floors while the private research spaces are on the upper floor. The ground floor is primarily open to the outside to create large, covered outdoor educational spaces and to allow panoramic views of the sound and wetlands. The levels are connected by a three story lobby space and a pair of steel and cable rail stairs which touch the ground.
The building’s material palate is carefully selected for the harsh coastal environment with mostly local materials while providing durability and ease of maintenance. The primary exterior materials are the exposed concrete structure, a rainscreen fibercement panel system and cypress rainscreen siding. To respond to the harsh ground floor conditions of periodic flooding, the lower floors walls are all built with concrete masonry unit walls while the upper floor walls are constructed with lighter metal studs and storefront. Natural light is also employed as a material saturating interior corridors through the use of high ceilings, transparent corridors walls, and clerestory windows.
The facility is LEED Gold certified and showcases a number of innovative features that help protect the land, water and natural resources. The land was carefully treated by balancing cut and fill and by using constructed wetlands and bioretention areas to capture and treat all storm water on the site. The ground is covered with all high-reflective materials and indigenous plants. The building also uses an on-site underground waste water treatment system and captures all of the roof rainwater to be used for non-potable water uses and for a possible source of future drinking water. The building’s HVAC system is a unique geothermal heat pump system which utilizes a public raw well water line as the source of renewable energy. Rather than drill hundreds of geothermal wells and risk hurting the local aquifers, CSI developed a partnership with the local government to use an existing well water line as the source of geothermal energy.