The Dr. Orrin H. Pilkey Research Laboratory is a new state-of-the-art, LEED Gold marine science research building for Duke University Marine Laboratory on Pivers Island. The Duke University Marine Laboratory coastal campus is a unique ‘window on the sea’, providing experiential learning that combines the classroom context with fieldwork, theory with practice, and encourages wise, local land management and protection of natural resources due to engagement in the field. For the new research laboratory, every design decision reinforced the concept of providing a window on the sea, both figuratively and literally.
Designed to stringent environmental and sustainable standards, it incorporates design solutions to address hurricane force winds, sea level rise, and storm surge concerns. The building form is a metaphor for sea-level rise (SLR), in which the laboratory containing mission-critical equipment and irreplaceable specimens is elevated well above projected SLR and storm-surge levels. The building structure and envelope use wood-framed construction and concrete masonry foundations in response to dominant local construction techniques. Material transitions are introduced at critical heights as protection from potential water damage.
The building’s solid expression was dual purpose – maximize wall space for equipment and storage while considering hurricane protection. The ground floor is concentrated around social spaces. Coined by then Marine Lab Director, Cindy L Van Dover as the ‘Collisional Commons’, it is where ideas from the entire marine lab community collide informally. Visually and spatially porous, it opens to outdoor porches protected from seasonally shifting winds all times of day. The ‘Collisional Commons’ is surrounded by faculty offices, a PhD bullpen, teaching lab and service spaces in separate boxes. The jagged footprint is better equipped than a flat façade to reduce storm-surge velocity.
Surrounding landscape berms create higher ground to minimize scour along the building’s edges, and the need for hard stormwater structures is removed through the promotion of infiltration at scupper discharge locations. Clad in wood and large expanses of glass, it reflects the architecture of the original campus quad built in the 1930s, while opening up dramatic views to the coast.
The second floor is a ‘laboratory loft’ that houses equipment-intensive research spaces, and features an elevated deck with views to downtown Beaufort, North Carolina, and the surrounding islands. Research faculty required maximizing real estate for equipment and storage, resulting in the strategic placement of windows at desk height to create unexpected framed ‘windows to the sea’ without sacrificing the program. Protected by a modern panelized system, it conveys the scientific and forward-thinking research taking place within.
Developed on the heels of the 2008 economic crisis, the budget was fixed and modest, which made the Architect-Led Design–Build (ALDB) process critical to addressing budget and program incompatibility. ALDB relies on access to subcontractors during the design period to obtain market feedback, and to allow early redesign without program loss by reshaping the building and making the design stronger. Through this back-and-forth process, it became clear that the spaces in-between and not the overall building form defined the essence of the design. The building visually and conceptually became an architectural expression not only about sea-level rise, but about the collisional and collaborative nature of research. Construction knowledge, largely obtained via direct interaction with local subcontractors, honed the design.
Excerpt from letter to awards jury from Cindy Van Dover, Harvey W. Smith Professor of Biological Oceanography and former Director, Duke University Marine Laboratory:
“The original Marine Lab campus quad has a rustic, historic feel; we asked that the Pilkey project energize the campus by providing architecture that would be interesting, functional, and dense with programming, without feeling institutional or out-of-scale with the ‘feel’ of the island campus, surrounding environment and town. And it was imperative that the building be completed at or under budget. Working collaboratively with a design-build team, we achieved all of these goals and have a remarkable building that has already become the heart of the island.
One of our key design considerations included indoor and outdoor spaces that would serve as ‘collisional commons’, where students, faculty, and staff could interact informally. The project provides outdoor spaces available during four seasons, with protection from intense sun, heat, and sensitive to seasonally shifting prevailing winds, each space with inspiring views of the water and barrier islands beyond. By providing multiple motivations for traffic to and interaction in the building, the project also effectively addressed our concern that faculty and research students based in the new building might be isolated from those in other buildings.
As an island campus of a School of the Environment on an inner island of the barrier island system, consideration of sea-level rise was critical to design. Some of the most intense and rewarding discussions with the architect and design team were about how to include credible adaptation to sea-level rise, or more accurately, to increasing intensity of storm surge and the potential for flooding in the future. Among the key solutions were to place the research laboratories and expensive instrumentation on the second floor, well above the reach of floodwaters, and to design the ground floor to be inundated without damage to service equipment or fixed building elements.
The architect-led, design-build team earned our trust from the very beginning because they listened and responded to our dreams for this building, our programmatic needs, and budgetary constraints in which we needed to work. The architect team delivered details that served the occupants well, like faculty office spaces each with corner windows, an outdoor social area adjacent to the graduate student open office space, and a small conference room within the graduate student ‘pod’ for privacy. They even joined and advised us in selecting furniture and the color palette.
The Architect and design-build team delivered a building that meets LEED-gold standards, can withstand hurricanes, and that includes notable adaptations to climate change and sea-level rise. The budget for the building was remarkably modest, yet the team delivered a very sophisticated science building for a remote field campus, using as many local contractors as possible in the rural county and small town in which the building was constructed. The Pilkey Lab delivers more than we dreamed of as a research laboratory and as a gathering place for people and enabling space for new ideas. love, and use.”
Material Used :
1. EQUITONE - Upper Box Cladding
2. EFCO - Curtain Wall and Window
3. Oldcastle Building Envelope - Curtain Wall and Window
4. Lab Casework - New England Laboratory Casework
5. William Lumber Company - Lower Boxes Wood Cladding