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Environmental Learning Center | Ocean City, NJ Ashley Rauenzahn

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Master of Architecture at The Savannah College of Art and Design

Š June 2013, Ashley Rauenzahn

The author hereby grants SCAD permission to reproduce and to distribute publicly paper and electronic thesis copies of document in whole or in part in any medium now known or hereafter created.

__________________________________________________/____/____ Ashley Rauenzahn Author __________________________________________________/____/____ Professor Arpad Ronaszegi Committee Chair __________________________________________________/____/____ Professor Thomas Hoffman Committee Member __________________________________________________/____/____ Professor Steven J. Wagner Topic Consultant, Professor of Environmental Sciences

Environmental Learning Center | Ocean City, NJ

A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Architecture Department

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Architecture

Savannah College of Art and Design

By Ashley Rauenzahn

Savannah, GA June 2013


This thesis is dedicated to my parents, David and Nancy Rauenzahn, for their unconditional support in everything I do.


I would like to thank my committee members for their incredible knowledge and support. Professor Ronaszegi, thank you for always believing in my project and pushing me to take it further. Professor Hoffman, thank you for your technical support and helping to make the structure work. Professor Wagner, thank you for your creative applications relating my ideas back to the environment and always being ready to edit my work.

In addition to the committee members, I’d like to acknowledge the following people. Whether it was recommending resources, encouraging ideas, providing files, or taking pictures, without their time and support, this thesis would not be complete.

Arthur Chew

John Jacques

Erin Christian

Mario Masso

Jeremy Noonan

Looknok Sriwanjarern

Dan Brown

Blanca Pena

Catherine Stelling

Erika Petersen

Doug Jewell

Zhehui Joanna Wang

Matt Purdue

Evan Leinbach

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations




1: Sustainability & Symbiosis


2: Climate & Case Studies


Concept Diagram


3: Site Analysis


4: Program


5: Quantitative Program


6: Schematic Site & Building Design


7: Design Development


8: Design Defense



List of Illustrations

Figure 1.1 Venhaus, Heather. Designing the Sustainable Site: Integrated Design Strategies for Small-scale Sites and Residential Landscapes. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Figure 1.2 (accessed October 29, 2012). Figure 1.3 Jansson, A. M. Investing in Natural Capital: The Ecological Economics Approach to Sustainability. Washington, D.C.: Island, 1994. Figure 1.4 Russo, Michael V. Environmental Management: Readings and Cases. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008. Figure 1.5

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Figure 2.1 (accessed October 20, 2012). Figure 2.2 OC Relief Facebook Album: Hurricane Sandy (accessed October 30, 2012). Figure 2.3 Photographed by Dustin Rauenzahn Figure 2.4

OC Relief Facebook Album: Hurricane Sandy (accessed October 30, 2012).

Figure 2.5 (accessed October 30, 2012).

Figure 2.6 (accessed October 27, 2012).


Figure 2.7 (accessed November 11, 2012).

Figure 2.8 (accessed November 11, 2012).

Figure 2.9 (accessed November 6, 2012).

Figure 2.10 (accessed November 6, 2012). Figure 2.11 Gang, Jeanne. Reveal. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. Figure 2.12 Gang, Jeanne. Reveal. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. Figure 2.13 Gang, Jeanne. Reveal. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. Figure 2.14 (accessed November 2, 2012) Figure 2.15 Reed, Alan. “GWWO Architects Project Portfolio.” http://archinect. com/firms/project/15387532/dupont-environmental-educationcenter/56824930 (accessed October 14, 2012). Figure 2.16 Reed, Alan. “GWWO Architects Project Portfolio.” http://archinect. com/firms/project/15387532/dupont-environmental-educationcenter/56824930 (accessed October 14, 2012). Figure 2.17 Reed, Alan. “GWWO Architects Project Portfolio.” http://archinect. com/firms/project/15387532/dupont-environmental-educationcenter/56824930 (accessed October 14, 2012).


Figure 2.18 Bordallo y Carrasco Architectos. “Multifunctional Centre.” (accessed October 21, 2012). Figure 2.19 Bordallo y Carrasco Architectos. “Multifunctional Centre.” (accessed October 21, 2012).

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Environmental Learning Center | Ocean City, NJ

Abstract Ashley Rauenzahn June 2013

The intent of this thesis is to design an environmental learning center driven by climatic changes, local symbiotic ecosystems, and the need to link education with the users.


The following chapters begin by discussing the need for sustainable practices, what makes relationships sustainable, and how sustainability can be implemented in site design. It continues by zooming into Ocean City and how the town’s specific climate and coastline is changing. It also looks at the different ecosystems that exist in the wetlands of Ocean City, and how the flora and fauna that flourishes there can be looked to for sustainable strategies to implement in the building. A number of case studies and buildings that utilize methods that could influence the design of the environmental learning center are presented as examples. The following chapters work together to illustrate what will make this building coexist successfully with the natural environment that is already there.

This thesis reinforces the need for an environmental learning center in Ocean City, New Jersey, as well as the need for specific methods that will help to prolong the life of a building when faced with coastal natural disasters including hurricanes and flooding. These methods will be able to be applied to other buildings in Ocean City, as well as in other towns along the coast.



Thesis Proposal


THESIS STATEMENT The intent of this thesis is to design an environmental learning center that will respond to the climatic conditions and local ecologies in Ocean City, New Jersey. The building will also educate the public on sustainability issues, on how the new technology works, and how they can be more ‘green’ at home.

This will be a place that will teach visitors about the environment, climate, and organisms of the coastline. Not only will visitors learn more about the nature in the area, they will also learn ways to conserve the environment. The site is in Ocean City, New Jersey and the building is to be used by the city’s year round residents (15,000 people) and summer visitors (the population of the town increases to 150,000 people). This sudden increase in population and use could influence design. The design of the building will also be driven by climatic conditions and encouraging the public’s interaction with the site and coastline.

SIGNIFICANCE OF STUDY Islands like Ocean City face destruction because of rising sea levels, severe storms and hurricanes, erosion, and strong winds. There is a constant battle between human intervention to improve coastal conditions and nature to take its course. The coast presents an interesting edge condition where thoughtful design has the opportunity to connect the water, marsh, and land to improve the condition of the site and building for nature and humans. This design will be significant in that special attention will be given to the living organisms inhabiting the surrounding wetlands. Studying these organisms in their natural habitat could lead to design strategies influencing users’ interactions with the building.


Visitors should learn as much from the building as they do from what is inside the building. This building also has the ability to unify the town and make greater connections to neighboring towns using the bay. The town already has strong activity on the ocean side and in a downtown retail area, but lacks activity on the bay. The climate, endangered coastal condition, and lack of sustainable buildings in the area proves that there is a need for such a building. Thorough research and analysis of Ocean City and thoughtful, innovative design of this center has the opportunity to provide a framework for other coastal towns to implement similar buildings or design methods.

METHODS OF INQUIRY The two topics that will be researched and analyzed for this thesis are types of sustainability used to improve site conditions and specific ecosystems in Ocean City’s climate. The study of sustainability includes ways building technology can respond to and use water, wind, and sunlight in its design. It will also investigate different types of symbiosis found in nature and relate those relationships to human life. The second topic will be more specific by analyzing the local ecosystems in this particular climate, as well as researching coastal building design techniques. Studying coastlines in temperate climates and researching


local materials will have a strong influence on the design of the building.

Projects that utilize and visibly showcase sustainable technologies should also be considered for a better understanding on how these tools work and how to bring them to the public. Studying the town and region at different scales, researching the history of the changing coastline, and understanding the year round versus seasonal populations will help to understand the site, surrounding environment, and what affects the site. Studying and visiting environmental learning centers will help to influence the design of the building. Researching buildings located on the coast that bridge water and land will also be beneficial.

EXPECTED OUTCOME Through the research of coastal sustainability, local ecosystems, and symbiotic relationships, an environmental learning center will be designed within a thoughtfully planned site to strengthen the connection between land and water and to educate the public about the local environment. While this building will be site specific, the methods realized will provide a framework for sustainable buildings along the coast in similar climates.


CASE STUDIES Queens Botanical Garden The Visitor and Administration Center is a new addition to the gardens which celebrates the connection between people and plants. It was the first LEED Platinum certified building in New York City. It utilizes sustainable elements like solar panels, a geothermal power system, grey water and storm water management systems, and the use of recycled and renewable materials.

A Florida Waterfront Proposal This specific conceptual proposal brings back the nature and character of Florida towns by extending development out onto the water. It aims at converting Highway US 1 from a high speed road to more of an avenue with access to waterfront development, which puts more focus on recreation.

Bachechi Environmental Education Building This building is part of an energy efficiency pilot project in Albuquerque, NM and intends to be ‘on-display’ where possible, with systems and material components noted and explained. The building is connected to gardens and a few other buildings focusing on sustainable efforts in the landscape as well.


1 16

Sustainability & Symbiosis




The Earth’s human population is increasing dramatically, resources are depleting, and more land is needed. Understanding innovative sustainable techniques which include developed site design, integrated building technologies, and symbiotic characteristics will help to set humans on the right path of protecting the environment, replenishing natural resources, and living healthier lives.

This paper will present research and analysis that will influence the design of an environmental learning center on the coast of southern New Jersey. In order to become educated about ways to conserve and improve the planet, certain topics must be addressed by discussing why sustainability is necessary, identifying sustainable relationships that exist in nature, and demonstrating what makes a site and building sustainable.



Heather Venhaus’s book Designing the Sustainable Site “seeks to elevate the discussion of sustainability beyond ‘doing less bad’ – attempting to merely slow down environmental degradation – to create regenerative sites that restore ecosystem function and rebuild the Earth’s natural capital.”1 The building industry has made great strides in reducing energy, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste. This reduction had become an accepted method by humans and is what comes to mind to most when hearing the word ‘sustainability’. While these methods are better than not doing anything to reduce waste, it is not enough to guarantee a sustainable future for humans. Aside from causing less damage, “we must also reverse the degradation of the Earth’s natural resources by creating regenerative and Figure 1.1 - Global Population Growth


resilient systems that sustain and increase the provision of ecosystem services.”2

Venhaus writes that “over 7 billion people now inhabit the Earth, placing unprecedented pressure on the planet’s soils, waters, forests, and other natural capital.”3 During the twentieth century alone, global population increased over three times from 1.6 to 6 billion. In the United States, 80 percent of the population resides in urban areas. Cities are feeling the pressure to expand to accommodate the sudden increase, and in the U.S., 1.5 million acres of farmland, forest, and other rural land have been converted to urban development every year.4 Studies show global population to reach 8 billion in the next twelve years.

This surge in population growth greatly influences the demands on the Earth’s resources, and according to World Wildlife Fund’s 2010 study, humans “will soon need the capacity of two Earths to absorb CO2 waste and keep up with natural resource consumption.”5 Carefully planned sites and developed landscapes can work on reversing this startling trend. Results will not be instant, but dramatically changing the ways in which sites are developed and maintained will ensure a sustainable future for the growing population and provide for the next generation. Venhaus argues that “all sites – whether densely urban, suburban, or rural – can support the natural systems and processes that


Figure 1.2 - Flooding in Brooklyn, NY.

sustain and fulfill our lives.�6 Careful attention to existing ecosystems, including the protection and restoration of them, must become standard practice for all land development.

The Earth is being damaged by a number of factors including flooding, water shortage, air and water pollution, and habitat loss. To begin to strategize against these detriments, we must first understand what causes them to occur. Flooding happens when floodplains, the lowlands bordering inland and coastal waters, are developed and altered. They act as an extension of those waters and move high water downstream. Impervious surfaces, like asphalt roads, parking lots, and excess concrete pavement, also cause flooding and stormwater runoff. This interruption to the natural water cycle “degrades the quality and reduces the quantity of water resources by limiting groundwater recharge and transporting pollutants.�7 These changes are especially apparent in coastal communities which are dependent on and directly affected by the change in bordering water levels. Rising


sea levels influence the existing land of islands by eroding them over time, but there are other factors as well. Journalist Cornelia Dean writes “Among other factors at play are the movement of the tectonic plates that form the earth’s surface, sand supply, and the actions of waves, winds, and currents.”8 More thorough analysis will be discussed in the second paper.

Similarly, pollution in the air changes the chemical makeup of the atmosphere, which in turn affects the wellbeing of humans and ecosystems. The primary driver of air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels. For example, “in the United States, equipment such as lawnmowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers contribute about 16 percent of hydrocarbon emissions and 21 percent of carbon monoxide emissions from mobile sources.”9 In most instances, the demand for cooling energy in buildings also contributes to poor air quality.

Finally, habitat loss occurs when the environment of a certain species is altered so much so that populations of the species are no longer able to live there. This is affected by the construction and maintenance of the spaces where we live, pollution, climate change, and the spread of invasive species of plants and animals. Understanding the causes of these damages creates the need for sustainable, practical design that can start to replenish the natural resources humans are losing.


The improvement of environmentally damaged sites protects native ecosystems and restores the natural systems they provide. Promoting redevelopment within existing communities also helps to save natural and financial resources that would otherwise be needed to construct and maintain new buildings. The site and building designed for these types of natural detriments must be able to handle, withstand, and possibly even flourish in these conditions. By understanding the issues that face developing sites, one can design a more environmentally-friendly project from the beginning of the design process.


Over the past few decades, the word ‘sustainability’ has increased in popularity and its meaning has changed. In the book Investing in Natural Capital, Ann Marie Jansson comments on the subject by saying, “As one of today’s buzzwords, ‘sustainability,’ means for most people sustainability of the economic activities regardless of how large they may grow.”10 The human population has increased the need for sustainable practices, even though they do not fully understand what the subject encompasses. Sustainable practices should be defined as processes that provide for humans and also give back to the environment


without damaging it.

Figure 1.3 shows a simple form of an ecosystem that provides for humans’ most basic needs. The sun, rain, soil, and minerals produce trees, animals, and vegetation for humans to use for Figure 1.3- Ecosystem

basic shelter and survival as well as their pleasure. By returning Example to their basic principles and needs, humans can act in ways that will not harm the environment. In the book Psychology of Sustainable Development, the authors propose “that sustainability requires avoidance of excessive materialism and of technological and managerial approaches to environmental problems,” saying instead, “what is needed is partnership with natural ecological processes, reduced attempts to manage nature, and respect for all species and their right to survival and an adequate quality of life.”11

Figure 1.4 - Ecological Footprints

They go on to say, “humans must find ways to reduce their demands without feeling deprived and that this can be done by focusing on satisfaction of primary needs rather than secondary, material needs created by advertising and marketing.”12 Humans’ expendable and unnecessary practices are only increasing over time which is negatively affecting the communities they live in and lifestyles they lead.

Humans’ use and dependence on energy has increased with the development of new technology and modern day conveniences. There are consequences to the overuse of energy, and in the future, the supply of these resources will


be depleted. Schmuck and Schultz write, “Primarily this is because of their overuse of the world’s raw materials and energy supplies, and their resultant heavy excretion of waste products and pollution.”13 Humans and their wealth are dependent on fossil fuels. We have become highly reliant on conventional oil, especially for transportation. This dependency will have to change in the future and we will have to implement different ways to produce and use energy.

According to the Architecture 2030 Challenge, “every year, nearly half (48.7%) of all energy produced in the U.S. is consumed by the Building Sector – about the same amount of energy consumed by both transportation (28.1%) and industry (23.2%) combined. Of the electricity we consume, over three-quarters (75.7%) goes to operate the buildings we live and work in every day.”14 Architecture 2030 is a nonprofit organization established by architect Edward Mazria in 2002 in response to the climate change crisis. Their goal is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the Building Sector that are causing climate change by altering the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed. The organization goes on to say that there are three strategies to reduce energy- by implementing appropriate planning and passive design strategies, improved material and product selection, and on-site and community-scale renewable energy technologies. Each of


these strategies will have to be carefully thought about when designing the environmental learning center. It is important to realize that energy can be thought about and saved from the beginning of the planning process when designing buildings. It should, in fact, begin in the very early stages of site development, and continue through the construction and performance of the building. The energy used in the daily functions of a site is known as the site’s operating energy. This includes the energy needed to heat and cool the building and power lights, irrigation systems, and maintenance equipment. Not only should designers think of ways to reduce energy costs and consumption of the building once it is built and being used, but strategies to reduce energy in the design and construction of the building should be implemented as well.

The book Environmental Management: Readings and Cases includes an article ‘Beyond Greening’ written by Stuart Hart. Hart discusses modern day issues with the boom of this idea of sustainability, but admits that sometimes those who think they are improving the planet, are not doing as much good as originally thought. He writes, “Companies have accepted their responsibility to do no harm in the environment,”15 but can they improve, replenish the environment? Hart continues, “Many companies are ‘going green’ as they realize that they can reduce pollution and increase profits simultaneously.”16 People need to realize that sustainability goes past pollution


control and reducing energy consumption. Perhaps in order to understand what types of sustainability are possible for humans to improve their quality of life and ways to replenish natural resources instead of just reducing use, we need to look to organisms coexisting with each other and nature.

The book Investing in Natural Capital goes into detail explaining how organisms in their natural habitats survive using natural elements: “In a natural ecosystem, each species performs work like fixing solar energy, filtering water for food particles, or decomposing fallen leaves to get fuel for its own metabolism. But each species is also dependent on the rest of the ecosystem for its maintenance‌The human species is not exempt from this general rule even if an abundant supply of fossil energy has made it believe so for some time.â€?17

Symbiotic relationships can be broken down into four categories: mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, and neutralism. Out of the four, only mutualism and commensalism Figure 1.5-1.7 - (L to R) A fish seeks protection and nutrients in coral; Symbiotic relationship outcomes; A crab and sea anemone in a mutualistic relationship


would be beneficial relationships to implement to have no harm on the environment while at least something is profiting. In a mutualistic relationship, both species involved are benefiting. A simple example found in nature is how the boxer crab carries small anemones in its claws. When approached by a predator, the crab shows the stinging anemones in defense. The boxer crab is protected from its predators, and the anemones benefit by consuming particles of food from the crab. In a commensalistic relationship, one species benefits while the other is not affected. In the sea, crabs, shrimp, and other fish take shelter in sea anemones to seek protection from predators.

Marine science expert Dave Abbott describes symbiosis as organisms “living beside, on, or even inside another organism; every potential use is made of the resources available in a sustainable fashion. No matter whether it is a parasitic, mutualistic, or a commensalistic relationship, it is an illustration of nature’s ability to co-achieve efficiency and equilibrium‌

something humans would be wise to emulate.”18 By analyzing and mimicking the way organisms survive and flourish in their natural habitats, humans can learn how to function in a healthier, more resourceful way.

Within the problem of reaching sustainability exists many social dilemmas that must first be addressed. In the Psychology of Sustainable Development, a social dilemma is defined as “a situation in which an individual or group must make a decision between options, one of which is better for them but worse for other people, and another of which is better for society but worse for the individual or group. They must decide whether or not to profit at the expense of others or of themselves at some future time.”19 Humans must consciously make the decision to take steps to a more resourceful future. Simple changes in humans’ environmental behaviors can lead them to more sustainable practices.

Figure 1.8 - The three pillars of site sustainability.



Sustainable development recognizes the dependencies that exist between the environment, human health, and the economy. All three are considered when measuring the success of sustainability. These can be translated into the three pillars of sustainability: planet, profit, and people.

An ecosystem is defined as a natural community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. Ecosystems also offer resources and processes that sustain and fulfill human life. The benefits realized from such ecosystems are known as ecosystem services. These are necessary to humans’ well-being and are characteristics of sustainable sites, which “seek to improve the quality of life of site users and the surrounding communities by creating regenerative systems that protect and restore ecosystem services.”20 A few examples of ecosystem services include regulating temperature and precipitation, cleansing the air and water, providing habitat, controlling erosion, and providing recreation, among others.

A site’s climate consists of several microclimates, which are small, specific areas that vary from the regional climate. Temperature, humidity, and wind speed change throughout a site due to plant structure, topography, and site materials among other factors. In simple terms, when it is hot outside,


people seek cool, shaded areas. On colder days, people look for warm areas in the sun, blocked from the wind. These are microclimates. Thoughtful site design will “create microclimates that reduce the energy consumption of buildings, mitigate the urban heat island, and improve the comfort of site users.”21 Designers must perform a careful site analysis so that the site benefits from as many natural aspects as it can. This includes studying and using the sun, wind, topography, vegetation, and building materials. Site design can be enhanced by building orientation, shade techniques, plant selection, green roofs, green walls, and water reuse.

In addition to careful site design, the materials chosen to use on the site and in the building are important. Reclaimed materials are materials saved from waste that are redirected for reuse. They can be used again in whole form or taken apart and adapted for new use with minimum processing, making reuse “one of the most effective strategies for offsetting the initial environmental and human health impacts that result from the manufacture of materials or products.”22 Using reclaimed materials also saves energy that would be used in transport, refinishing, and installation. In the view of design and education, “the reuse of on-site materials can also enrich the visitor experience by providing insight into the previous use and history of the site, as well as generate designs with unique meaning and detail.”23 Similarly, recycled materials are those that are collected reprocessed, and used


again to make a new product, which also eliminates cost and excess harm on the environment. Local or indigenous materials should also be used whenever possible to cut down on transportation costs in site design.




Understanding the causes of damages destructive to the Earth right now will help us to design sites and buildings better. It should influence the decisions humans make to keep limited resources in mind. By looking to symbiotic relationships that happen every day in nature, humans can learn to coexist in a world that is not so dependent on fossil fuels and wasteful energy. This will lead to longer, healthier lives. Understanding why sustainability is needed, identifying sustainable relationships, and demonstrating what makes a site and building sustainable can lead designers to create greener buildings that actually give back to the environment. Innovations in technology, new ways to produce and use energy, and strategies to coexist with and improve the surrounding natural environment will influence the design of the environmental learning center in southern New Jersey. These ideas and techniques will also impact other coastal communities as they work as a framework for future design.





Venhaus, Heather, Designing the Sustainable Site:

Integrated Design Strategies for Small-scale Sites and

Residential Landscapes (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley &

Sons, 2012) xiii.


Ibid., 3.


Ibid., xiii.


Farmland Trust 2009


Venhaus, Designing the Sustainable Site, 2.


Ibid., xiii.


Ibid., 122.


Dean, Cornelia. Against the Tide: The Battle for

America’s Beaches. New York: Columbia UP, 1999.


Venhaus, Designing the Sustainable Site, 66.


Jansson, A. M, Investing in Natural Capital: The

Ecological Economics Approach to Sustainability

(Washington, D.C.: Island, 1994) 75.


Schmuck, Peter and P. Wesley, Schultz, Psychology of

Sustainable Development (Boston: Kluwer Academic,

2002) 307.


Ibid., 307.


Ibid., 307.


Architecture 2030, “Problem: Energy,” Architecture


problem_ energy (accessed September 30, 2012).


Russo, Michael V, Environmental Management:

Readings and Cases (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2008) 3.


Ibid., 3.


Jansson, Investing in Natural Capital, 75.


Abbott, Dave. “Symbiosis.” National Science Database

Library (N.p., May 2000. Web. 26 Sept. 2012)


Schmuck, Psychology of Sustainable Development, 310.


Venhaus, Designing the Sustainable Site, 2.


Ibid., 87.


Ibid., 80.


Ibid., 81.


2 38

Climate & Case Studies



Approximately 23% of the world’s population lives within

60 miles of a coast.1 The success of most coastal cities and towns are dependent on the tourism market and the people who live in these areas. These towns are so appealing to move to and live in because of the economic opportunities they offer and the diverse plants, fish, and wildlife that exist there. Zooming into the state of New Jersey, according to Ocean County’s Department of Planning, coastal towns’ population growth and development has surged “with the population of New Jersey’s coastal counties growing from 3,345,010 in 1950 to 5,281,247 in 2000.”2 As discussed in the previous paper, this surge in population growth is increasing, which leads to demands of the Earth’s resources to also increase.

This paper will relate the issues of designing for a changing climate back to a specific area: Ocean City, New Jersey. Analyzing and discussing specific site conditions will help to develop design methods that will benefit this geographic location. Several precedents will also be introduced and discussed. The aim is to discover and identify certain methods and technologies that can successfully be utilized in the environmental learning center.



Over the past 100 years, sea levels rose approximately eight inches worldwide. Zooming into the coast of New Jersey, the sea level has risen an additional four to eight inches, equaling 12 to 16 total inches. It is projected that the mean sea level will rise up to five inches in the next eight years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that in the next 100 years, sea levels will rise 23 inches. However, the last assessment was completed in 2007 and does not take into account the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The Greenland ice sheet loses over 300 gigatons (billion tons) of ice a year, and the East Antarctic ice sheet is losing over 150 gigatons per year.3 Including the calculations of the melting ice sheets increases projected sea levels to 20-71 inches within the next century. The IPCC claims that New Jersey should plan for 29 inches of sea level rise by the end of the century. Specifically, in Ocean City, sea levels are estimated to rise 16 inches in 100 years. This data is important Figure 2.1 - Mean Sea Level for Cape May, NJ


to process and understand because it shows that there is a need to change the way buildings are being constructed so that they will not be affected by these rising sea levels.

A number of studies have been completed discussing the vulnerability of coastal areas to sea level rise. Princeton University’s Future Sea Level Rise and the New Jersey Coast assessment defines vulnerability as “the degree to which a natural or social system is at risk to damages or losses due to natural phenomenon.”4 Vulnerability can be thought of in a number of ways when relating to change- as a function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. In the following discussion, the term vulnerability signifies that the coast would not be able to adapt to any increase in sea level. It is important to understand this issue so that it can be ensured that conditions never get as severe as described.

A coastal hazards database was created to track and assess the vulnerability of the east coast of the United States to sea level rise. The database identified seven variables related to coastal area vulnerability: elevation, coastal rock type, geomorphology, relative sea level rise, erosion and accretion, tidal ranges, and wave heights.5 An overall coastal vulnerability index was created from these variables and their possible risk. Based on the index, the report claims “much of coastal New Jersey, especially the barrier beaches and coastal wetlands on the Atlantic coast were characterized


as at ‘high risk’ to the impacts of sea level rise.”6 This area includes Ocean City. This pinpoints Ocean City as an area where special attention should be given so that it can be protected. Sea levels are rising now, not in the future. Existing buildings need to be modified and new construction needs to be thoughtfully designed so that it will withstand future harsher conditions.

The rise of sea levels is partly due to the increased temperature of the oceans. This higher temperature has also caused more intense hurricanes since 1975. New Jersey faces nor’easters (a large scale storm traveling to the northeast from the south with winds from the northeast) and tropical storms which are caused by high winds pushing on the ocean’s surface. These storms lead to flooding, inundation, and erosion. In the past 100 years, 18 significant hurricanes have passed through and impacted New Jersey’s coast. Each storm’s path and intensity varies, leaves a physical mark on the towns, and has an emotional impression on the residents. Research compiled by the IPCC predicts more intense hurricanes will occur in the future. Projected frequency and intensity increases of the tropical storms will lead to higher and more frequent flooding. The IPCC claims that “flooding that qualifies as a 100-year flood today will happen on average once every 65 to 80 years by the 2020s, once every 35 to 55 years by the 2050s, and once every 15 to 35 years by the 2080s.”7


This increase in intensity can be seen in the recent Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane hit land in Ocean City Monday night, exactly when meteorologists predicted it would. However, the first high tide of the day occurred early Monday morning, and the bay met the ocean in many parts of the island. At least three feet of water flooded streets, alleys, yards, and homes. The town was already under a mandatory evacuation, but that did not stop any destruction to the existing built environment of the town. New technologies in constructing buildings should be implemented now so that buildings can withstand such storms, because research predicts hurricanes and nor’easters are only going to get more intense and frequent.

Case study research completed by Princeton University of Cape May, New Jersey offers insight into measurements of the changing coastline. Cape May is located 30 miles south of Ocean City, so the findings can be thought to be Figure 2.2 - The road leading into Ocean City, NJ on the north end after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy.


Figures 2.3-2.6 Pictures from Ocean City, NJ during and after Hurricane Sandy.


Figure 2.7 - Satellite image of Ocean City, NJ, before Hurricane Sandy.

similar between the two towns. An inundation model was created and mapped out to find areas of the town that would become permanently inundated when rising sea levels reached certain points. It was estimated that 20% of the area mapped would become inundated with a .61 m sea level rise, while 45% would be inundated with a 1.22 m rise.8 Cape May’s coastline has been found to have receded around 500 m since 1879, equaling an approximate “shoreline


Figure 2.8 - Satellite image of Ocean City, NJ, during/after Hurricane Sandy.

displacement rate of around 4m/year.�9 This data only supplements the facts that southern New Jersey’s coastline is constantly changing. The land of coastal towns such as Cape May and Ocean City is dependent on the bordering waters, and it is crucial that the right steps are taken to ensure the longevity of such coastal towns.



The rising sea levels and increased flooding has an effect on natural systems that exist on the coast causing ecological impacts. It is predicted that 22% of the world’s wetlands will disappear due to sea level rise alone. Human impacts could increase that statistic to 70% loss of wetlands.10 Wetlands are used for flood and erosion control. They also act as water cleaners and are home to innumerable species of organisms. Wetlands of any area play a part in an increase to tourism and the economy in that they are used for hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, and bird watching, just to name a few activities. It is imperative that Ocean City keeps its wetlands as healthy, sustainable environments for its ecosystems. This is the area where humans interact with the existing ecosystems, and the environmental learning center should be designed to foster this relationship.

The coast of New Jersey includes bays, estuaries, wetlands, Figure 2.9 -A gull flying over marshes in Ocean City, NJ.


beaches, dunes, and forests, which make up a number of diverse ecosystems supporting diverse plants, fish, and wildlife species. It is reported that at least 24 endangered and threatened wildlife species inhabit New Jersey’s coastal ecosystems.11 The southern parts of the New Jersey coast, including where Ocean City is located, are a “globally significant resting and feeding stopover for millions of shorebirds along the Atlantic bird migration flyway.”12 Every May and June, the region sees over a million birds on their path north from where they spent the winter, some coming from as far south as South America. The world’s largest population of horseshoe crabs, which breed and lay eggs on the beaches, exists in the same areas. The birds that are migrating will feed on these eggs.

Not only is it important to understand what types of animals live in the area for the proposed learning center, but vegetation should also be researched. Spartina is the common type of marsh grass found in Ocean City. This can Figures 2.10 Wetlands in the Wildlife Refuge in Ocean City, NJ.


be replanted to replenish the area and site as needed. Spartina acts as the primary provider of the ecosystem, stabilizes the soil, and helps to prevent erosion. Its roots grow dense enough to support weight, so humans can walk through in most areas. This idea of anchoring beneath the surface could be used in the design of the environmental learning center.

Another interesting concept concerning ecosystems is the idea of coral reefs growing on submerged objects. Coral reefs are home to various diverse species of fish and other marine species. The reefs also act as a buffer, protecting buildings and other inland areas from storm damage and harsh wave action. These immersed objects could be purposely submerged to initiate the growth of such reefs, or could simply be parts of the building that reach underwater, like pilings. Solid materials can also be deposited and submerged to establish new oyster beds. Oysters are filter feeders that improve water quality and will mitigate run-off.


Oysters are also used in some areas to monitor water levels and test water quality.

The flora and fauna of the wetlands in Ocean City can inspire design ideas. The plants and animals of the region can also be looked at for their innovative ways of survival. Can certain strategies that the living organisms use be applied to a building? When threatened by natural disasters, most animals are able to leave an area or take cover. Plants, on the other hand, possess unique properties that could influence a building’s design. For example, in coastal towns, the trees and marsh grasses take on a particular shape formed by the wind and other elements. They are formed by nature to withstand the forces of nature. Properties like flexibility, or being able to stretch and bend, could be beneficial in the building’s design to endure forceful climate changes. Flexibility will also be crucial in regards to the sea level rise. Possible solutions are to create a building that will rise with the changing sea level, sit higher than projected



sea levels, or move away from the threatening waters when needed.

A successful building to view when thinking about how to design with nature and existing ecosystems is the Ford Calumet Environmental Center in Chicago, Illinois. Studio Gang Architects, led by Jeanne Gang, designed the center to “educate the public about the industrial, cultural, and ecological heritage of the Calumet area, and will provide an operational base for research activities, volunteer stewardship, environmental remediation, and ecological rehabilitation.”13 The studio’s design process and thinking focused on the realization that the site for this building was part of a high number of birds’ migratory paths and how to incorporate birds’ behaviors with the building. Another aspect of their design was the use of reclaimed materials from the Calumet region in Chicago.

The team researched that 97 million birds die in the United States each year from colliding into glass windows.14 They even went as far as collecting the dead birds to document Figure 2.11 - Diagrams from Studio Gang preventing bird collisions.


their species and record the number. This is just one example of the rigorous research the firm does in any architectural

project. To reduce the number of birds that fly into the building on their flight north, the south-facing porch is enclosed with a basket-like mesh of salvaged steel. This creates an outdoor classroom for visitors as well as a screen for observing wildlife.

Studio Gang used the way birds create nests to inspire the construction and aesthetic of the environmental center. Special attention was also given to the materials the building was constructed out of including the use of “salvaged steel from the Calumet industrial region and other remnant, recyclable materials

Figure 2.12-2.13- Photo and rendering of Studio Gang’s Ford Calumet Environmental Center.


such as slag, glass bottles, bar stock, and rebar.”15 Material choice was important for this project, as well as using them in new ways, and they are highlighted and demonstrated to visitors to enhance the learning aspect of the building. Studio Gang Architects utilize a rigorous design process to produce innovative buildings and projects. Their methods of using local, reclaimed materials, as well as always keeping the existing environment in mind are extremely relevant to the project in Ocean City.


A building’s use of energy can be improved using passive and active systems. Passive solar systems collect, store, and redistribute solar energy without the use of mechanics like fans and pumps. They utilize integrated systems in the building design where basic elements, like windows and walls, function to be as efficient as possible in energy use. For example, walls and floors can hold and radiate heat. Two basic elements, “a collector consisting of south-facing glazing and an energy-storage element that usually consists of thermal mass, such as rock or water,”16 make up passive solar heating systems. Building orientation is crucial to take advantage of the sun angles and heat from a particular site. Ventilation plays a critical part in successful passive systems as well.


An example of active systems that can easily be incorporated in this building’s design is the use of photovoltaic (PV) panels, which produce high-grade energy of electricity. It has been said that “if all roofs and most south walls were covered with PV, most towns and small cities would produce all the electricity they needed.”17 Technology such as PV panels should be incorporated into the building in



the very early stages of design to ensure as much energy as possible will be produced and used correctly.

Wind power and tidal power should also be explored for the environmental learning center. The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm in Atlantic City is the first coastal wind farm in the United States. Five wind turbines, each 380 feet tall, provide 50% of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant’s electricity needs, while providing their remaining energy to the main power grid for resale as premium renewable electricity. Atlantic City’s Green Initiative estimates “that the energy produced by the wind farm will save the energy equivalent of 23,613 barrels of crude oil.”18 This type of technology would be beneficial to the bay area of Ocean City, however it is not likely the space required for such a system exists. It is important to understand the existing networks nearby and realize the potential for connecting to and utilizing parts of such a system.

Figure 2.14 - Wind turbines at the JerseyAtlantic Wind Farm in Atlantic City, NJ.


Tidal power or tidal energy is a form of hydropower where energy from the change in tides is converted into power, usually electricity. Historically, tidal energy was used when incoming and outgoing tides caused a water wheel to produce mechanical power. Newer technologies include the use of barges or dams, tidal fences, and tidal turbines to harness the tidal power. Ocean City usually only experiences a tidal change of three to five feet, so again, it is unlikely that the environmental learning center will be able to sustain itself from tidal energy. It could be helpful to utilize this type of energy at a larger scale when thinking about future growth.

The Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, Delaware is home to the DuPont Environmental Education Center, which was built by the Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware “to restore marshlands along the Christina River while creating economic vitality, enhancing the environment, and promoting public access.�19 The building was designed to act as a symbiotic connection Figure 2.15 - The Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, DE.


CASE STUDIES Figure 2.16-2.17- The Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, DE.

with the urban environment and the natural marshland and to respond to the tidal river and wetlands. The area utilizes a quarter mile long bridge where visitors can take in views of the marsh without directly contacting it or interfering with the existing natural systems. The site consists of permeable surfaces to help with water control and utilizes recycled and other eco-friendly materials. Additionally, solar passive design and sun screens decrease overheating within the building. Executive director of the Riverfront Development Corporation of Delaware (RDC), Michael S. Purzycki stated in regards to the center that they were able to “restore this marsh after centuries of abuse and return it to its natural state as a viable habitat for more than 200 species of plants and animals.�20 The DuPont Environmental Education Center will be an important precedent to look to for programmatic elements as well as its fluid connection with the surrounding environment.

Another relevant case study to the idea of a building coexisting in a natural environment is Bordallo y Carrasco


Arquitectos’ ‘Multifunctional Center’ and ‘Development of the Natural Environment.’ They are two different projects in

Figure 2.19 Multifunctional Center by Bordallo y Carrasco Arquitectos.

Yecla, Spain that complement each other effectively. The ‘Development of the Natural Environment’ consists of an infrastructure to spend time in the natural space including areas for sports, walking, and social activities in an existing urban context. The ‘Multifunctional Center’ is a building designed to preserve the natural character of the area by creating a symbiotic relationship where humans inhabit the forest without destruction and the environment is able to be used in new ways. The building and overall masterplan was designed and built to respect all existing natural elements. Pathways were built around existing trees, and the Multifunctional Center acts as an anchor to the network. The construction of the pathways and the building do not transform the existing park at all.

The building footprint was minimized and took the place of existing paths whenever possible. The facades of the building



are made up of a natural lattice of wooden logs which creates sun and shade while also blending in with the existing environment of pine trees. The classrooms are located behind the southern facade so that they are able to be heated and cooled naturally. The architects “calculated the percentage of shade to be generated on the south-eastern facade at sunrise and the northeastern one at sunset, with the purpose of minimizing the building’s energy needs.”21 The firm used active and passive systems together in the project. The strategies they used to preserve the natural environment and create a space where nature, a building, and humans coexist without harm to one another are methods that will translate to the environmental learning center in Ocean City.

Figure 2.18 - Model showing Development of the Natural Environment by Bordallo y Carrasco Arquitectos.



Understanding the specific details in the changing climate and how it has a direct effect on Ocean City helps to define what is necessary when it comes to designing a new building. Case studies and precedents offer inspiration and proof of successful applications in keeping environmental factors in mind. The building and the existing environment, including all ecosystems in the wetlands, should coexist as if nothing new is being introduced. Plants, animals, the built environment, and humans should all be able to survive without threatening each other, but rather improving the quality of life for one another.





Matthew J.P. Cooper and Michael D. Beevers,

Future Sea Level Rise and the New Jersey Coast

(Princeton University, 2005), 2.




Sustainable Jersey Climate Change Adaptation Task

Force. New Jersey Climate Change Trends and

Projections Summary. http://www.sustainablejersey.

com/editor/doc/pgrants82.pdf (accessed October 28,

2012), 6.


Cooper, Future Sea Level Rise, 6.


Ibid., 6.


Ibid., 6.


Ibid., 2.


Ibid., 21.


Ibid., 21.


Ibid., 16.


Ibid., 16.


Ibid., 16.


Jeanne Gang, Reveal, New York: Princeton

Architectural Press, 2011, 31.




Studio Gang Architects, “Ford Calumet Environmental


fordcalumetenvironmentalcenter (accessed November

1, 2012).


Norbert Lechner, Heating, Cooling, Lighting, (Hoboken:

John Wiley & Sons, 2009), 152.


Ibid., 192.


The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority,

“Green Initiative,”

meeting_planners/green_initiative.aspx (accessed

November 3, 2012).


Alan Reed, “GWWO Architects Project Portfolio,”

environmental-education-center/56824930 (accessed

October 14, 2012).


Bridgette Meinhold, “The DuPont Environmental



wildlife-refuge (accessed October 14, 2012.)


Bordallo y Carrasco Architectos, “Multifunctional


(accessed October 21, 2012).


Concept Diagram





















































3 66

Site Analysis



All of the research to this point leads to a design concept that centers around biomimicry, coexistence, and teaching. The building (or parts of the building) should reflect the ‘formed by nature to survive nature’ idea. The building and site design should utilize qualities of coexistence which include mutualism and hopefully commensalism. The building and site should teach as much as it does.


Figure 3.1 - Design Concept Diagram


Figures 3.2-4 Conceptual Case Studies 2. Gulls and oysters on pilings 3. Project Haiti, HOK 4. Skygrove, HWKN

In order for the building to successfully coexist with the environment, we should look to examples found in nature. American ground squirrels and prairie dogs build circular dikes that prevent rainwater from flooding their burrows underground. This idea could be applied to circular plantings of trees, shrubs, and other landscaping to funnel and slow storm water, lessoning pressure on city sewers. Plants found in peatlands withstand high water levels from snow melt and heavy rains by clumping together into stilt-like rafts. Red mangrove trees crowd together to withstand strong waves on the coast and absorb wave energy in their roots which helps to protect the shoreline.

In Haiti, HOK uses the highly adaptable Caribbean kapok tree for inspiration in their orphanage design. Because of Haiti’s rainy season and humid climate, the kapok tree is smart to look at since it stores water internally and sheds its leaves under drought conditions to conserve energy. The orphanage, called Project Haiti, will likewise respond


directly to the weather and maximize available resources. Additionally, the structure of the balconies mimic the kapok tree’s branches with different size limbs on alternating floors for increased support.

Usually architects would design a building to protect it from water. Biomimicry inspires us to follow nature’s lead instead of going against it. Nature slows, sinks, and stores water. In Project Haiti, the slowing, sinking, and storing begin on the roof. Plants receive water, slowing the flow, before water is filtered and funneled down to lower gardens for irrigation. Similarly, rooftop PV panels absorb solar energy to power the building and surrounding streetlights.

Mangrove trees actually inspired the design of Skygrove, a vertical office park. Similarly to how mangrove trees’ gnarled roots lift their trunks above water, HWKN’s conceptual Skygrove building would split into root-like sections that lift the rest of the building safely about rising water levels.



Ocean City, New Jersey is an island that was originally used by Lenni-Lenape Indians of the Algonquin nation as summer camping grounds. The first written reference of the island came in the 17th century when Dutch explorer David Pietersson DeVries described it as “flat sand beaches with low hills between Cape May and Egg Harbor.” Later in the century, Ocean City was referred to as Peck’s Beach, and it was used for grazing cattle and harvesting herbs. Peck’s Beach started to become the seaside resort that is known today in the late 19th century, when a group of four Methodist ministers bought the land. Ezra B. Lake, S. Wesley Lake, James E. Lake, and William H. Burrell are known as the men who founded Ocean City, then known as ‘A Christian Resort.’

By 1880, the men had created the Ocean City Association and staked off streets and lots. Each of the founders named Figures 3.5 - Historical map of Ocean City, New Jersey, circa 1903


one of the four principal longitudinal streets; from east to west, Wesley Avenue, Central Avenue, Asbury Avenue, and West Avenue. These are still the names of the streets in the town today, although a few more have been added. Wilder echoes the description of the infrastructure of the town by saying, “On the whole, however, Ocean City appears to be a city of real homes—more so than Atlantic City. It is laid out in right angles,--streets running east and west (numbering in all fifty-nine), and four avenues running north and south.”

Wilder eloquently wrote, “being on an island, both the front door and back door of Ocean City open out on a waterscape,-- the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and Great Egg Harbor on the west.” Because of this seclusion, roads had to be built to access the small island, and railways created hassle free connections to surrounding towns. In 1898 a new boardwalk was built in place of the existing one and was considered one of the finest on the Eastern coast. Hotels and cottages started popping up, and by 1905 Ocean City had truly become a summer resort.

Ocean City, New Jersey has been known as ‘America’s

...both the front door and back door of Ocean City open out on a waterscape,-the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and Great Egg Harbor on the west. -Walter Wilder, Seaside Scenes and Thoughts; Some Extracts From a Diary, 15

Greatest Family Resort’ since 1920. This is due to the fact that there has always been a strong group of people who have seen the potential for the island and community. The people and the rich history of Ocean City weave together to create a culturally, historically, and architecturally appealing place.


Ocean City is located within a chain of barrier islands off the coast of southern New Jersey. Barrier islands are coastal landforms, usually narrow strips of land formed parallel to the mainland coast. 13% of the world’s coastlines have barrier islands offshore, which suggests that they can be formed and maintained in a range of environments. The land is formed naturally by ocean currents and storms, and once formed, plays an important role in mitigating ocean swells and other People have a fundamental yearning for great bodies of water. But the very movement of the people toward the water can also destroy the water. -Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language, 136

storms. The formation of barrier islands simultaneously forms lagoons, estuaries, and marshlands, which sustain plants and animals distinct to the area.

Human intervention to these barrier islands, including developing the land, building homes, and constructing roads and bridges, threatens the islands’ ability to properly function. These changes to the natural land can increase the speed of erosion or prevent the island from growing as it naturally would. Barrier islands are meant to shift in size and shape. Manmade interventions, like pumping the beaches with sand or adding seawalls and jetties, actually does more harm than good in the long run.

Today, Ocean City has a year round population of 10,000 residents, which booms to hundreds of thousands of people in the summer. At this point in the town’s development, it would be impossible to suggest residents give up their land and home for the island to continue to develop naturally.


Figures 3.6-9 Geographic Orientation 6. Northeast 7. New Jersey 8. Southern Islands 9. Ocean City



Figures 3.10-12 - Ocean City, New Jersey model

But we can build in ways which maintain contact with water, in ponds and pools, in reservoirs, and in brooks and streams. We can even build details that connect people with the collection and runoff of rain water. -Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language, 324


Figures 3.13-14 - Ocean City, New Jersey 13. Existing Access to Ocean City 14. Conservation vs. Natural Areas


Zooming into the island of Ocean City, direct access through bridges from the mainland is already in place. The lighter green color in Figure 3.14 shows the protected conservation areas, which include a state park and wildlife refuge on the island. This protection is lacking on the northern end of the island. The darker green color shows wetland areas that are


home to many plants and animals similar to the protected areas. This was one reason for the site selection.

Another reason is the orange strip shown in Figure 3.14. Ocean City is mostly zoned for residential development, but through the years it has consistently kept one strip of land specifically for public, community use: the block between 5th and 6th Streets, towards the northern end of the island, from the ocean to the bay. The site chosen for the Environmental Learning Center is within this public strip of land, on the western edge that borders the Great Egg Harbor Bay. This is an important site in Ocean City because it has the ability to connect the existing community buildings and lots with the islands that exist in the bay.

Zooming into this strip, this site provides an opportunity for the community areas and the natural areas to overlap, as seen in Figure 3.15.


Figure 3.15 - Community strip and natural islands, Ocean City, New Jersey

Figures 3.16-3.17 Conceptual site model, community strip in Ocean City, New Jersey


Figures 3.18-19 - Community strip, Ocean City, New Jersey 18. Existing community lots 19. Proposed community strip


Figure 3.18 shows the existing buildings and parks in the community zoned strip in the town. One idea that could complement the design is to turn this strip into a greenway where some of the roads become pedestrian only and natural again. Figure 3.19 shows this idea as well as the proposal for the environmental learning center to extend out into the bay, connecting the site to the natural islands in the water.



Figure 3.20 Walkability of community strip, Ocean City, New Jersey


Figure 3.21 - Concept diagram

Figure 3.22 - Concept diagram: edge condition



As discussed before, there is a discourse between what happens when land meets water on these islands. Naturally, water shapes the land, and the land moves with the water. This also applies to the organisms existing there: they survive by moving with the elements, and goes back to mutualistic relationships. On the other hand, manmade developments, like sea walls and bulkheads, create a distinct, solid line between the land and water for protection from the water and natural elements. The proposed environmental learning

Figures 3.23-25 - High Line, New York City, NY

center and its site will challenge this idea and find the balance between natural forces and structured restrictions. The diagram shown in Figure 3.21 explores the idea of breaking down the barrier that currently exists between land and water and also placing the building in the water as an extension of the land.

There must be some balance between land and water and how they naturally exist. Maybe the land begins to weave together with the water or uses vegetation as a buffer, similarly to the High Line in New York City. ‘Natural’ areas (areas with a vegetation) seem to merge into the walkable hard surfaces on the pedestrian greenway.


Figure 3.26 - Water levels in Ocean City, NJ


Figure 3.27 - Tide levels in Ocean City, NJ

Figure 3.27 shows technical data concerning the tide levels and flooding of Ocean City. It is interesting to see how much the flooding level categories have changed in just the past 25 years. The diagram also shows the water levels from past storms, leading to the decision that this building should be/ should be able to be raised to be protected from rising water. There is approximately a 5’ difference between low and high tides daily.


Figures 3.28-30 Climatic Data for Ocean City, NJ

Knowing the average temperatures for Ocean City is important because it will influence design. This is a tourist driven island, and the island is used the most by people during the warm months of the summer, while most animals that migrate return in the spring. Average rainfall totals are necessary when implementing rain collection on site. It is important to know that wind speeds are sometimes over 10 miles per hour, with higher speeds during storms, like Hurricane Sandy. The maps in Figure 3.31 show the direction and intensity of the winds during Sandy with the eye very close to south Jersey. Finally, Figure 3.32 shows existing shadows on the site throughout the day in the summer and winter. The water to the northwest is minimally affected by shade from the built environment.


Figure 3.31-3.32 Climatic information 31. Wind direction and intensity of the US during Hurricane Sandy 32. Shadow study of site


Figure 3.33Existing circulation of site Figure 3.34 Existing dimensions of site

The county’s largest city by area, Ocean City is actually only ten square miles, with four of these square miles being water. The streets of the town are in a grid formation except for the very north tip, where the streets take on a more ‘suburban’ feel. The town is completely walkable. A network of bike paths exists and connects to the proposed site. The site also has a boat launch ramp that ties into the existing Jersey Island Blueway, which is a system of paths for kayaks and canoes throughout all of Cape May County.

The closest island that will link to the site is about 850 feet away. The site physically on the land in Ocean City that will link the environmental learning center back to the town is 70,000 square feet.


The existing building on the site is the Bayside Center. This is an education facility owned and operated by the city, dedicated to the environmental and cultural aspects of Ocean City’s bayfront. Currently, the building operates very limited hours, is underused, and has not been properly maintained throughout the years. The Bayside Center was originally built as a house in 1916. It was purchased in 1958 by the Wheaton family and used as a summer property. In 1995,


the County purchased the property through the New Jersey Open Space and Farmland Preservation Program, and some

Figures 3.35-3.36 Existing site photographs

improvements were made, including a new bulkhead and an increased elevation for flood proofing. Currently, the center includes an Ocean City Lifesaving exhibit, a historic buildings exhibit, and a third floor which offers views of the bay and wetlands. The city uses the building for special events in the summer as well, like the annual Night in Venice Boat


Parade. The area on the site surrounding the building houses sailboats and kayaks used for lessons in the summer and offers spaces for picnicking and fishing. These spaces are currently underutilized. The new design should encourage increased use of the space. These existing functions will also influence determining the necessary, specific program for the site and project.


Figure 3.39 shows the most commonly seen organisms in the bay. It is imperative this building should not intrude on their habitat, it should work to protect them, maybe even help to

Figure 3.37 - Existing site from bay Figure 3.38 - Existing marsh island

replenish them.



Figure 3.39 - Most commonly seen organisms in Ocean City, NJ marshlands


4 100




Looking at environmental learning center case studies, qualitative attributes can be seen including natural light, operable doors and windows, and sustainable components. It is also helpful to see they’re at three different scales in three different parts of the country.




The Philip Merrill Environmental Center



32,000 SF

Annapolis, MD

Figures 4.1-4.5 Qualitative attributes of environmental learning center case studies

The Philip Merrill Environmental Center is a 32,000 square-foot Newport Beach Environmental Nature Center Newport Beach, CA

building created to house the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

9,000 SF (CBF), a 35-year-old organization dedicated to resource

restoration and protection and environmental advocacy and education.1 The building connects CBF to the bay and is designed to minimize its effect on the bay. Placing the building on piers allowed for under-building parking, which Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Env. Science Center Rochester, MN

kept the building footprint small. Parking is relatively small

16,000 SF

area designed to meet occupancy and covered by a permeable surface.

The CBF uses the center as a teaching tool, giving public tours of the building and opening it up to use by outside groups, which directly aligns with the proposed function of the environmental learning center in Ocean City. As visitors enter the Merrill Center from the north they can see highperformance features, such as solar water heaters, operable and clerestory windows, and rainwater cisterns. The building’s south wall, mostly glass, faces the bay. The shed roof is



particularly efficient because it allows for easy collection of rainwater and encourages an open interior design.

The building uses operable windows for natural ventilation. Sensors keep track of outdoor temperatures and humidity and automatically shut down air conditioning and open motor-operated windows. Sensors also switch on indicator signs throughout the building when conditions favor open windows. Composting toilets reduce water use in the building, which is less than 90% of a typical office building this size.2 A rainwater catchment system captures water, reducing the need to draw from wells. Drought-tolerant native plants minimize irrigation, and mowing meadow and grasslands only once a year reduces fuel use and pollution on site.

On the interior, unfinished pressed wood fiberboard and the lack of finishes and fixtures reduces resource use and indoor air pollutants. Natural renewable materials such as cork flooring, bamboo flooring, and natural linoleum were used on



Newport Beach Environmental Nature Center Newport Beach, CA

9,000 SF

Figures 4.6-4.9 Qualitative attributes of environmental learning center case studies

Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Env. Science Center Rochester, MN

the interiors. Solar hot water heating provides all the domestic

16,000 SF source hot water for the building. The building uses a ground

heat pump system for heating and cooling. Forty-eight wells, each 300 feet deep, use the earth’s constant temperature as a heat sink in the summer and a heat source in the winter.3

The mission statement of Newport Beach’s Environmental Nature Center is “to provide quality education through hands-on experience with nature.”4 The center is a 9000 square foot facility. With optimal east-west site orientation and 14 native plant communities, this building is meant to be a West Coast beacon of green design. The ENC produces more energy than it utilizes with a 42 kilowatt photovoltaic array. The use of natural ventilation has eliminated the need for air conditioning. A white-colored roof and light-colored concrete decrease the impact of heat island effect.

Bike racks, special parking spots for low emission vehicles and on-site showers encourage greener transportation. Native,


drought-tolerant landscaping has eliminated the need for an irrigation system. The building has waterless urinals, dualflush toilets and low-flow fixtures saving an estimated 15,000 gallons of potable water a year. The building’s water-efficient features reduce water use by 46% as compared to similar buildings. Recycled and recyclable materials have been used extensively. The building insulation is composed of 85% recycled denim blue jeans and 15% cotton fibers that are rapidly renewable resources.5 The outside of the building is made of wood and plastic scraps that would normally end up in a landfill.

The Cascade Meadow Wetlands and Environmental Science Center is an excellent case study to look to for its innovative energy production and use, dedication to conservation, and the fact that it teaches the public as much as it does. Their mission is “to establish Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science Center as a regional resource for environmental education with an initial focus on energy,



Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Env. Science Center

16,000 SF

Rochester, MN

Figures 4.10-13 Qualitative attributes of environmental learning center case studies

water, and wetlands.�6

Their education initiatives revolve around water and energy. These include informing their visitors about topics such as water conservation, wetlands, storm water management, watershed, and energy conservation. Additionally, they utilize a number of different energy production methods. Electricity is obtained through three PV arrays. Station 1 utilizes thin film solar cell technology mounted on a rack that tracks the sun as it moves. Station 2 also tracks the sun, but uses more common polycrystalline solar cell technology, while station 3 includes polycrystalline solar cells, mounted on racks, adjusted based on season.7

Wind is used in both the horizontal and vertical axis. Their horizontal wind turbine is mounted on a 100’ pole to better access the more consistent winds high above the ground. This produces 15,000-18,000 kWh of electricity per year (equaling electricity used by roughly 2 Minnesota homes per year). The


vertical axis turbine is mounted on a 23’ pole and has a more compact design. This produces 750 kWh / year (equaling 1 month of electricity for a typical Minnesota home).8

Solar thermal energy meets domestic hot water needs (sinks, showers) using two 4’x8’ flat plate collectors. Geothermal technology is used through a high efficiency heat pump system that provides in-floor heating and cooling for the building. The pump transfers heat to and from the lake at Cascade Meadow, whose temperatures are consistent throughout the year

The science center is a compact 16,000 square-foot building. Landscapes “work with” the building and include pervious pavements, green roofs, bio cells, and native plants. Through all of this design, the center works to restore wetlands and is part of a three year process to restore 90 acres of wetlands and prairie complete with extensive trail system.9



The Philip Merrill Environmental Center Annapolis, MD

Newport Beach Environmental Nature Center Newport Beach, CA

Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Env. Science Center Rochester, MN




32,000 SF

9,000 SF

16,000 SF





Figure 4.14 Programmatic elements from case studies


Figures 4.15-4.21- PV technology case studies


Getting into some of the sustainable components, it is important to remember they do not have to be traditional PV panels. Since they are being thought of as part of the building in the design process, there is opportunity for using newer


Wetlands Institute Program Hierarchy Proposed Program Hierarchy

Proposed Program Hierarchy

Flora | Fauna Exhibit

Salt Marsh Trail

Flora | Fauna Exhibit


Aquarium & Touch Tank Classroom | Meeting Room

Classroom | Meeting Room

Horseshoe Crab Exhibition & Terrapin Station

Entrance | Information

Book & Gift Shop Observation Deck

Observation Deck

Entrance | Information

Marsh View Lecture Hall

Observation Tower

Observation Tower Boat | Gear Storage

Boat | Gear Storage

Admission Restrooms



Staff | Research

Staff Only | Research Area


Observation Tower

Staff | Research

Screen Deck Gardens















technology like smaller parts that move with the sun. The Wetlands Institute, located in Stone Harbor, thirty

Figures 4.22-4.24 Wetlands Institute, Stone Harbor, New Jersey

minutes south of Ocean City, is an environmental center whose mission statement is “to promote appreciation, understanding and stewardship of wetlands and coastal ecosystems through our programs in research, education and conservation.� These ideas align with the vision for the Environmental Learning Center in Ocean City. The Wetlands Institute’s design is lacking technologically, and its program is questionable (its largest area is the gift shop), it does have a larger site and research facilities. It makes sense for the proposed site in Ocean City to tie into this existing network and act as an extension to the programs and exhibits located farther down the coast, while still sustaining its own identity to its own town and linking more towns farther north.

Figures 4.25 Conceptual program diagram



Figure 4.26 - Program list





The Philip Merrill Environmental Center, Chesapeake

Bay Foundation: Highlighting High Performance.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a DOE

national laboratory, (Annapolis: 2002).






“enc: Environmental Nature Center,” (accessed January 16, 2013).




“Cascade Meadow Wetlands & Environmental Science

Center,” (accessed

January 16, 2013).








5 120

Quantitative Program Development


Minimum square footages were used to start to see relationships between the proposed spaces. Originally the building could have started to sit on the site, like in Figure 5.2. More diagrams were created to show the programmatic elements stretch across the water to connect the two pieces of land. Finally, Figures 5.6-5.7 show iterations with the program combined into a single building that somehow connects the land to the neighboring islands.


Figure 5.1 - Quantitative program list



Figure 5.2-5.7 Quantitative program layout diagrams


Overlaying the program diagram (with minimum square footages) on the actual site shows the relationship to the existing buildings and natural islands. It also begins to show the scale of parts of the building in relation to the amount of water.


Figure 5.8-5.9 Quantitative program layout diagrams on site


Water is an integral part in this design. It is important to think how the tide moves vertically and horizontally. The movement of the water in both directions could show parts of the building or site at only certain times of day. Figure 5.11 shows the idea of breaking down the existing barrier to create a more natural condition.


Figure 5.10-5.11 - Tide movement diagrams


Another crucial aspect to this design is how to get across the water, to both the proposed building and the marshlands. Possibilities include bridging over, taking a boat across, or tunneling under. Tunneling under is probably not the most appealing condition, so between the former options, a


pedestrian bridge, an aerial gondola, or a type of ferry would Figure 5.12-5.20 work. Again, in all of these diagrams, special attention is paid to the existing built edge condition. Parts of the site in the town could be transformed into something similar to the existing boat launch, pictured in Figure 5.17.

Movement across site diagrams 12-16. Possible ways to cross the water 17. Existing boat launch ramp on site 18-20. Diagrams showing proposed movement & edge condition




6 134

Schematic Site & Building Design



Let us accept the proposition that nature is process, that it is interacting, that it responds to laws, representing values and opportunities for human use with certain limitations and even prohibitions to certain of these. -Ian McHarg, Design with Nature, 7


Figure 6.1 - Conceptual model & diagram Figure 6.2 - Conceptual model on site


Conceptual models were built to show these conceptual ideas. This first one is made up of three parts showing different densities, possibly representing program. It starts to talk about solid and void relationships and indoor and outdoor spaces. Putting it on the site, it begins to simply show an idea of a building and how it can connect the areas of the site.



Figure 6.3-6.5 Conceptual models & ideas on site

The next model was made to show separate spaces connected by strips. It could start to become the facade of a building as in Figure 6.3, or simply show pathways to various parts of the building or site as in Figure 6.4.

The third model simply illustrates that the building should be raised. It is interesting to see what could happen when vegetation and organisms start to grow and inhabit different parts of the building.

At this point in the design process, it is important to continue to look to existing case studies and precedents to inspire and influence the design thinking.



Pedestrian Bridge - Austin, TX,

Miró Rivera Architects

Located on a densely vegetated site in Lake Austin, the Pedestrian Bridge connects the client’s main house on the property with a newly constructed guest house, also designed by Miró Rivera Architects.

The design of the bridge was inspired by the reeds and other native vegetation found in that area. The bridge is a light and maintenance-free structure that is well-integrated within its wetland setting.

Figure 6.6 - Conceptual sketch by Miró Rivera architects for the pedestrian bridge


The bridge is composed of three elements:

Superstructure | The arch structure spans 100 feet with

a main span of 80 feet. It is composed of five nested

five-inch diameter pipes that diverge gracefully

between the spring-point of the main span and the

abutment at the beginning of the bridge.

Decking and Railing | The pipes support 1/2” diameter

bars which become both decking and guardrail via

Figure 6.7-10 - Pictures of the Pedestrian Bridge in Austin, Texas

a simple field bend from horizontal to vertical.

The irregular length and close spacing of the bars

recall the native reeds of the site, and the thin profile

of the superstructure is made thinner when viewed

through the visual veil of the reeds. The handrail

consists of a rope secured with steel wire rings to a 1x1

horizontal tube welded to the vertical bars.

Abutment | Native stone slabs are layered vertically

to create the ramps at the abutments. Deep raked

joints recreate the rhythm of the steel bars of the deck

and railings. To further incorporate the bridge with its

natural setting, the steel is left unfinished to weather,

just like the rope handrail and the stone ramps.1’

When thinking about how to connect the proposed environmental learning center to the existing marsh islands, a pedestrian bridge is a possibility. This case study’s design is inspired by the environment and blends in with the existing surroundings well.



Lake Vico Birdwatching Towers Caprarola, Italy These wooden birdwatching look-out towers in Caprarola, Italy were built for the client Riserva Naturale Lago di Vico. They use a simple design to give visitors a higher view so they can observe the surrounding area and look for birds and other wildlife. An interesting point in the design of these towers is how the views are framed by the wood. Certain pieces of wood are left out at heights which align with children’s and adults’ eye levels. The towers also include information about the birds living in the area, so that visitors can easily identify the organisms and learn a little bit about them.

This structure accomplishes two things that the observation tower in the program of Ocean City’s environmental learning center aims to accomplish. It raises visitors up so that they have a new, different, better view of the area, and it incorporates education devices, informing visitors about the wildlife in the area.

Figure 6.11-15 - Photos of the Lake Vico Birdwatching Tower, with information of the organisms in the area.


Water Building Resort - Concept by Orlando Urrutia The Water Building Resort raises awareness about water-related issues by using integrated renewable energy and minimizing its overall environmental footprint.

On one side, a lattice structure directs humid air inwards, where TeexMicron, a high-tech mechanism, exploits daily evaporation and night condensation values to obtain drinking water. This air is also used to generate electricity.

The south facade of the building is clad in photovoltaic cells, making it possible to capture abundant solar energy while still allowing natural light to penetrate the interior.

The building includes a resort complete with an aquarium, restaurants, fitness areas, a hotel, and spa services. It is also home to The Center of Technological Investigation (Cidemco), which controls quality of industrial products. It hosts both permanent and itinerant exhibits, mostly concerning water, the environment and renewable energy. A water treatment facility on the bottom floor purifies salt water and harvested rain water.2

While the raindrop form would not fit in the context or scale of the site in Ocean City, New Jersey, this case study can be looked to for its technological innovations and its concern with water conservation. Since an early conceptual idea was to design with water and wind erosion in mind, looking at the curved shape of this case study could begin to influence the form of Ocean City’s environmental learning center as well. Figure 6.16-19 Renderings and diagrams of the Water Building Resort


Boathouse at Millst채tter Lake Seeboden, Austria, MHM Architects The boathouse is divided into 2 parts: 1 built over the water and 1 over ground. The original shoreline can be seen by noticing the two different materials in the facades. The part of the building over water is built using wood, while those built on land are wrapped in expanded copper. Both selected materials, the untreated Siberian larch as well as the natural copper panels are subjected to a natural weathering process which gives the building an annually changing in its appearance, until the wood has turned completely grey and the expanded metal panels are totally covered with the green patina typical for copper. 3

One of the best design features of the building is hidden in the wooden facades: on account of an authority ban which prohibited an outside footbridge for docking on to

Figure 6.20-24 - Photos of the Boathouse at Millst채tter Lake. 6.20 - Movable doors collapsing to create an outdoor platform for the first floor and allow boats to enter/exit 6.21 - Photo showing material use 6.22 - View of boathouse with the existing house in the background 6.23 - Movable doors 6.24 - View from land




the boathouse at the west facade, a system of facadeintegrated folding elements was developed.4 These folding elements form a horizontal, passable surface for the level connected to the land. On the ground floor (sea level) of the north facade they open to the entrance for the three boat slips and also in the upper floor a platform over the lake.




Figure 6.25 Conceptual diagram showing transparent vs solid massings for building. Figure 6.26 - Early site plan showing the redesign of the existing lot on land.

In addition to the previously stated conceptual ideas, solid versus void was thought about. As seen in Figure 6.25, a transparent component of the building that was set into the water would allow visitors to see the water level changing vertically as the tide came in and out. There should also be a more solid component due to the programmatic qualities, but this has the opportunity to be punctured and intersected with more open areas.

When thinking about the design of the building, it is important to begin to redesign the existing lot located on land in Ocean City. The improvements made on this site can inform the design of the environmental learning center, and vice versa. The site starts to weave together with the bay, intertwining land and water. The lot is also designed to be more park-like,



Figure 6.27-30 - Existing osprey nest platforms built in South Jersey Figure 6.31 - Sketch of proposed bird platforms for site


providing more open spaces and smaller pavilions for visitors to use.

People are not the only users who are thought of, however. An idea to attract and cater to the birds in the area led to the design of nesting platforms. These platforms are already built and used in the area for ospreys specifically. The wooden structure mimics the look of a tree with the platform nestled between two ‘branches.’ An original thought was to design the lower half of the towers for people to utilize, but since birds like ospreys prefer their distance from humans, more consideration will have to be given. Regardless, this idea and an iteration of this design can be used on the marsh islands to tie together the entire site.


Figure 6.32-34 Conceptual mass model, iteration 1


A series of formal models were created on a site model to understand the direction of the building form, the building placement in the water, and the connection to the marsh islands.

The first two models (Figures 6.32-36) show two iterations of a simplified building mass with a faceted, twisting form. The building’s placement was thought to be in the center of the bay, requiring connections to the land as well as to the wetlands. The latter of the two iterations begins to show cuts or openings in the form, allowing light in and views to the outside.

The third iteration (Figures 6.37-39) shows the building mass raised on pilings with a twist in its form to allow more views on both levels to the wetlands. This model was placed adjacent to the marshy islands, requiring a longer, stronger connection to land.


Figure 6.35-36 Conceptual mass model, iteration 2


Figure 6.37-39 Conceptual mass model, iteration 3


Figure 6.40-41 Conceptual mass model, iteration 4

The next set of models show a stronger connection across the water. The first simply shows the massing needed to span between the two areas of land. Based on previous conceptual models, this mass can be separated and extended, moving up and down, or in and out of the water, providing indoor and outdoor spaces.


Figure 6.42-43 Conceptual mass model, iteration 5

The second model cuts away more of the mass leaving the building to be more like a frame as the spaces step up and down as they move across the water vertically. This set of model keeps in mind the connection to the marsh, suggesting a rectilinear form, possibly a pedestrian bridge.


Figure 6.44-45 Conceptual mass model, iteration 6


Figure 6.46-47 Conceptual mass model, iteration 6

The third model shows a better balance between solid and void, even showing different floor levels that could coincide with the tide levels. The building is anchored by vertical solids, symbolizing a tower which would be used for circulation as well as observation from the highest points.


Figure 6.48-50 Conceptual mass model, iteration 7


A final, slightly larger massing model combines the first two conceptual models (Figures 6.1 & 6.3) with the linear forms just seen. This model shows separate masses connected by horizontal elements, suggesting circulation. The spaces within the massing of the building step up and down, but the building is still horizontally linear. The mass eventually leads to the ‘bridge’ which is anchored on either end by solid towers. This is the massing model that is taken forward in schematic design.

Figure 6.51 - Conceptual mass model, iteration 7


Figure 6.52 Conceptual massing of spaces for building Figure 6.53 Conceptual perspective from massing


Modeling the physical model digitally, some of the volumes and spaces were refined, and vertical supports were put in place to support the pedestrian bridge. Since all forms have been strong, solid, and rectilinear thus far, introducing cables for a suspension bridge was avoided. At this point, columns are set 100’ apart. You can quickly determine the depth of the structural beam needed by dividing the span. To span 100’, a 7’ deep beam is needed. This can be achieved by using a truss that is at least 7’ deep. In this case, the structural truss could become the walls or sides of the bridge and other pathways.


Figure 6.54 - Natural and Community spaces in Ocean City, NJ.

Again, the site of the environmental learning center was chosen so that it could be the link between the community buildings and lots in Ocean City and the natural elements found in the bay. The proposed building and its form will act as an extension to the existing community buildings in this strip.


The figures on the following pages show schematic

Figure 6.55 - Existing community buildings in Ocean City, NJ, plus the proposed environmental learning center

elevations of the building and how it fits into the context. A programmatic section was created to show how the spaces will be used and the different paths that exist through the building.

The observation tower is still thought of to be more transparent so that visitors in the base of the tower can see the changing water level. Adjacent to this area are docks and boat storage, where the entire floor (or separate docks) can float and move with the tides. Water is a big part of the design of this building, since it is crucial to Ocean City, so these two elements will showcase that.



Figure 6.56 - Solid versus void elevation

Figure 6.57 Programmatic elevation Figure 6.58 Programmatic section through building



Figure 6.59 Conceptual south elevation

Figure 6.60 Developed east & north elevations



The site plan was revisited to show the schematic design of the building. The site creates a strong linear connection from

Figure 6.61 - Developed site plan

the existing community strip.

A pedestrian bridge was chosen instead of an aerial gondola, cable car, or tram system because one of the main concepts is to encourage visitors to interact with the outdoors. This can be better achieved by allowing them to walk outside, seeing, feeling, smelling the environment. A pedestrian also provides more opportunities to design and control their journey, framing certain views and designing moments for rest and observation throughout.


Figure 6.62 - Site plan to plans sketch


The following images show more developed plans and sections highlighting circulation through the building and programmatic spaces. The sections start to show the structural trusses in the horizontal elements.


1/64” = 1’-0”

1/64” = 1’-0”


1/128” = 1’-0”

1/64” = 1’-0”

1/64” = 1’-0”

Figure 6.63 Perspective from land looking at environmental center



Perspective images show the building mass on the site as well as how the building would be experienced as a visitor. Figure 6.64 shows the first corridor in the building and how it provides views to the outside as well as openings to look through the other spaces inside. Figure 6.65 shows a view from the pedestrian bridge, headed towards the marshes.


Figure 6.64 - View down corridor in building

Figure 6.65 - View on pedestrian bridge





“Pedestrian Bridge in Austin,” http://www.architizer.


austin/46788 (accessed February 18, 2013).


Kain, Alexandra “Water Droplet Resort Will Convert Air

into Purified Water,”


(accessed February 18, 2013).


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millstatter-lake-mhm-architects (accessed February 18,





7 184

Design Development




After the initial images showing the building design concept and its schematic design, time was spent refining the design. Special attention was given to the necessary egress and to make sure conditions for ADA accessibility were met. The structure for the building was properly sized and systems were identified, including mechanical and sustainable systems as well as developing a skin for the building and implementing passive heating and cooling strategies. In the early stages of this design development, it was helpful to look to more case studies to inspire overall building design, including specific components in the environmental learning center: the bridge or pier design, observation towers, large-scale trusses, and interaction with the water.



Jurmala Observation Tower - Jumala, Latvia, ARHIS Architects

Designed by Latvian firm ARHIS Architects, this tower provides views of the city of Jurmala and the nearby sea. The tower is 120 feet high and made out of galvanized metal with treated pine trusses. The structure is enclosed by an open-air cage.

The observation platform is located at 110 feet requiring to climb 203 stairs. On their journey upward, there are 12 balconies (three on each side) for observation at differing heights. Some of the balconies cantilever out over the facade. It was important to avoid obstructing views, so the metal framework is covered with narrow wooden strips placed horizontally.

The overall concept of framing views and offering various Figure 7.01-7.05 Photographs of the Jurmala Observation Tower


levels for visitors to observe relates back to the goals for the environmental learning center in Ocean City.



Lorong Halus Pedestrian Bridge - Singapore, Singapore, Thryc

The design of the 550 feet long pedestrian bridge minimized impact on nature by reducing the number of piles needed. Fewer piles were made possible by increasing the bridge span, which meant using a filigree truss structure composed of five 100 foot long spans between piles. The pedestrian bridge was meant to allow people to see the wetlands as a haven for wildlife and to provide a green space for the public to use. Even the red rustic color of the bridge compliments nature.

Each of the structural steel compartments is divided into 11 steel sections, changing in size, and flipped where supported, which begins to create a wave effect. Figure 7.06-7.08 Photographs of the Lorong Halus Pedestrian Bridge


This unique design of a truss over long spans is applicable to the design of the pier in this project.



Faroe Islands Education Center - Marknagil,

Faroe Islands, BIG

Situated on a hillside outside of Torshavn, Faroe Islands, the new Marknagil Education Center solves the design challenge of combining three educational institutions into one building. Designed by the architectural firm BIG, the 19,200 square meter building will cater to over 1,200 students and 300 teachers by housing the Faroe Islands Gymnasium, Torshavns Technical College, and Business College of Faroe Islands in a single building, making it the largest educational building in the country’s history.

This case study was chosen because of its use of the structural truss becoming part of the spaces used by people. It also includes cantilevered classrooms, which uses the truss to frame views in a different direction. Figure 7.09-7.13 Renderings of BIG’s Faroe Islands Education Center




Sichang Road Teahouse - Kunshan, China, Miao Design Studio

This building addresses the issue of Chinese urban residents being isolated from nature. Its design is meant to “encourage people to develop an intimacy with natural water so that they will love nature more and demand a more holistic urban environment.”1

The teahouse’s design explores how to allow users to truly be close to and interact with the water. The river level continually moves up and down, therefore a pool was created to draw its water from the river. From the teahouse, this pool looks like it is part of the river.

Within the building, visitors can open windows and touch the water that is just below their elbows, a similar experience to them being on a boat. A layer of wood trellises with vines Figure 7.14-7.15 - Images above of the Sichang Road Teahouse


the glass roof gives people the feeling of peeking into

the bright river from under dark shades.2

This building’s strong connection to the surrounding water and the way it focuses on allowing the users to interact with the water are design solutions that can be applied to the environmental learning center.

Figure 7.16-7.17 - Areas of the teahouse where visitors view and interact with the water.


Figure 7.18 - Site plan


The revised site plan shows an updated building plan along with callouts highlighting important aspects of the building and site design. On-street parking already exists on all blocks surrounding the site, however ADA parking would be provided closer to the entrance to the center which is the area on Bay Avenue between the site and the existing


baseball field that has been transformed into permeable pavement. The sailboat and kayak storage that existed on land at the Bayside Center have been moved to the new building, allowing more open space on land. Small pavilions provide areas for visitors to picnic and enjoy the outdoors. The existing Bayside Center remains on site and is used for historical exhibits and archives.






The south elevation of the building shows the context of the environmental learning center as it connects the existing buildings in Ocean City to the marshlands. Materials used in the building are a steel structure (trusses, beams, columns) with concrete floors, and walls made out of concrete and glass. The floor of the pier is wood, mimicing the boardwalk in Ocean City and because of its natural qualities. The pier does not provide access to the marsh (visitors are still able to access it by boat). This decision was made as to not impose on the natural environment. Instead of constructing a







Figure 7.19 - South elevation with callouts

boardwalk in the wetlands, a view from above is provided for visitors.

Innovative materials add to the sustainability of the building as well as the concept of bringing new technology to the public. The concrete used in the building is TX Active Photocatalytic cement which has the ability to clean the air and sustain healthier living. Through photocatalytic technology, concrete components with TX Aria react with sunlight to fight pollution. Each exterior concrete surface “reduces harmful atmospheric pollutants including nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, VOCs, urban smog and other industrial


threats to health and quality of life.”3 Used for the windows and curtain walls in the building, Pilkington Activ glass is a dual-action self-cleaning glass. The special coating uses natural elements to help keep the glass free from dirt, needing less cleaning and providing clearer views to the outdoors. The Pilkington Activ coating reacts with sunlight to break down organic dirt. Rainwater then “spreads evenly over the surface of the glass, forming a thin film and helping to wash away any dirt and reduce streaks.”4

Figure 7.20 - East elevation



A developed, final iteration of plans, shown in Figure 7.21, shows resolved egress and life safety issues including the proper number of exits and fire stairs as well as corridors and doors sized appropirately. In the sections in Figure 7.23, the truss structure has been developed. In some places the truss becomes two stories deep, strengthening the structure and visually connecting the levels better.


Figure 7.21 - Plans



Figure 7.22 Sustainable components diagram



One of the driving concepts in the design of this building has been for it to be as sustainable as possible and to teach the public about its energy saving methods. Figure 7.22 shows these sustainable techniques. PV panels on the roof are used for power. Their angle also allows there to be a clerestory to let more sunlight into the building.

A non-occupiable green roof on the second level collects rainwater, helps to cool the building, and would become home to a variety of species (insects, vegetation, birds). The idea is to keep this green roof as an area of vegetation of little or no maintenance for visitors to see from the floor above. Rainwater is collected from all roofs and collected in cisterns below the first floor for reuse in the building and as irrigation on the site. A vegetated biofilter is designed to run alongside the entrance ramp to the building. This will be a place for visitors to be reminded and surrounded by nature as the enter and exit the building. It will also drain and filter water from the roof and building.

Operable windows allow natural ventilation to be the primary means of cooling the building year round. However, the building also uses a geothermal energy to heat and cool the building. The earth remains between 50째 and 60째 F throughout the year, thus heating or cooling the closed loop system


which is underground. Using a heat pump, this will heat or cool tubes in the concrete floor to produce radiant heating or cooling as needed. Since some of the exhibit spaces are double stories, it makes sense for the main source of heating and cooling to be near the floor, where the users will be.

The skin of the building is made up of layers of intersecting pieces of material. This idea was inspired by Studio Gang’s Ford Calumet Environmental Center in Chicago, Illinois, discussed in Chapter 2 and seen in Figure 2.13. In the Ford Calumet Environmental Center, the nest-like layers of materials formed an ‘in-between’ space for visitors to occupy while allowing birds extra room before reaching the glass of the building. The skin designed in this building is not as deep, so it does not allow for an occupiable space, although it does create a trellis-like skin which allows vegetation to grow up it (from planters on the extended floor at its base). It also acts as a sunshading device while still allowing light in. Finally, the number of layers and the density of the openings Figure 7.23 Longitudinal & Latitudinal Sections


changes throughout the building facade. The skin is denser and has less openings in the places where visitors are focusing on the exhibits on the inside of the building. There are more and bigger openings in the places where visitors would be focusing their attention outside. The openings allow for and frame the views to the outdoors.

Since very early in this design process, it was stated that the building should do more than just be ‘sustainable’. It should coexist with nature, and if possible, benefit the organisms in the area. To accomplish this, everywhere the building touches the water will be an environment for oysters to grow. Benefits of oysters include cleaning the water and increasing diversity of organisms (partly because the shells increase the surface area of the originally flat surface, physically allowing more room for organisms). Additionally, the building is catering to the birds in the area. The top portions of the columns will be wrapped in layers of intersecting materials for birds to use for nesting. This wrapping is similar in design to the skin, however it


is deeper so that it can be inhabited.

The columns being utilized by organisms also offer an opportunity for the pier to include moments for visitors to view these habitats. Observational seating has been designed to cut through the pier in certain places. Looking through glass, visitors can see birds nesting and the building’s interaction with the water.


The composite section, detail drawing, and 3D axon drawing reiterates the building’s design features. It highlights how light comes in through the screening elements and how the building is designed with natural ventilation in mind. The detail drawing shows typical connections between the steel structural components, and the 3D diagram shows how the layered facade connects to the curtain wall and truss system in the building.


Figure 7.24 - Composite Section



Ocean City’s environmental learning center was designed in response to the climatic conditions and local ecologies. The building acts as a link between the community buildings in the town and the natural wetlands in the bay. Its educational


Figure 7.25 - Exterior perspective

program influences the residents of Ocean City, summer visitors, as well as neighboring towns along the coast. Design strategies were taken from nature and merge with modern structural elements and innovative sustainable technology to create Ocean City’s Environmental Learning Center.


Figure 7.26-8 Perspectives 26. Water Conservation Exhibit 27. Energy Exhibit 28. View of tower and how it meets the water



Figure 7.29 - Perspective on pier





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Figure 8.1 - Final Boards for Thesis Defense


Figure 8.2-5 - Final Exhibition 2-3. Physical model on site 4-5. Board and model in gallery




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Environmental Learning Center | Ocean City, NJ  

For my Masters of Architecture Thesis completed at SCAD, this thesis goes through the design of an Environmental Learning Center for Ocean C...

Environmental Learning Center | Ocean City, NJ  

For my Masters of Architecture Thesis completed at SCAD, this thesis goes through the design of an Environmental Learning Center for Ocean C...