New base for firm that focuses its long-term efforts on rebuilding city lost to Hurricane Katrina
unabridged Architecture, a Mississippi-based firm which specialises in sustainable recovery from 2005's Hurricane Katrina, have recently constructed a new office for their own use in Bay Saint Louis, USA.
With the overall intention of rebuilding a more walk-able city, the architects carefully considered ways of maximising the potential of the site for this new office, wishing to explore live/work options for downtown whilst constrained by an unusual triangular site, a tight budget and the desire for a LEED Silver rating.
On this site, about a mile from the water's edge, a structure had originally been built in 1890 and used as a grocery store, cafe, gas station, lawnmower repair and upholstery shop. It had deteriorated prior to Hurricane Katrina, but remained standing afterwards due to the limited flooding at this high point of the coastal ridge. The old growth wood siding and framing was salvaged for reuse in the new building.
Because of its prior use as a gas station and lawnmower repair shop, brownfield conditions applied. In a successful remediation effort, underground storage tanks were pumped out and removed, soil was tested and high concentration soil replaced. Plants high in phytoremediation capacity were utilized, including sunflowers, duckweed, Indian mustard, fescue and pink clover.
Selecting and restoring the project site was the first step toward LEED certification at the Silver level. Development density, rainwater harvest, bike storage, maximizing open space and intensive landscaping using native species also contributed points. This project was the first in south Mississippi to designate a parking spot for low-emitting vehicles - a fun way to draw attention to the green features of the building from the first contact.
The initial design called for the buildings to be framed in steel, due in part to the recycled content, but mostly because the additional stiffness would confer a benefit in insuring the property in the gulf coast region. However, budget did not permit the expenditure, so locally harvested wood was used in its stead. Mississippi has a tremendous inventory of pine forests, so southern yellow pine was used for framing materials and cypress for rainscreen cladding.
All wood came from within 200 miles of the jobsite, and trusses and SIP panels were assembled within 50 miles. Materials refer back to the original structure, and the accretion of time is inferred. The tower is clad in a vertical, cypress wood rainscreen, while the long, low office has corrugated metal siding, with wide overhangs and wood brackets. This highlights the separation of the two buildings and preserves options for a third, future building.
The design concept for the buildings references the original building on site through the form and scale of the architectural office. The one-story structure addresses the triangular corner with pointed geometry eroding to allow vision over a low planter edge, and introduces colour to the city streetscape.
The wood-clad triangle at the corner extends to the interior, wrapping the box containing all of the support functions for the studio: reception, kitchen, copy room and restroom.
Colour marks other special locations around the site, highlighting the entrances and balconies of the tower, and the window seat popout at the third level. Wood cladding has a clear coat, so the sparks of colour stand out against the field of integral materials. This caused no small controversy within the community, but many of the negative feelings dissipated once landscaping was planted.
Interiors are designed to require no artificial light in the daytime. The large windows are shaded to prevent glare and heat gain, and extend from the top to the bottom plate for about half of the wall space. This allows the office to have a 'storefront' connection to the street and more practically, provides even, calibrated light throughout the studio space.
Millwork includes a series of open working desks with built in bookcases, niches for computers, drawings, files and personal items. Slate-colored paperstone counters are extra deep for the layout of drawings, printers and reference books. Salvaged materials at the interior include windows from a previous project reused as a screen between the conference room and the corridor.
unabridged Architecture have a number of projects that create safe shelters from the storm using an abstract vernacular that is appropriate for the place and climate of the site, and continue to work towards rewriting the city's density.