Professor: Coleman Coker, Ruth Carter Stevenson Regents Chair
Studio: Nevin Blum, Michelle Cantu, Connie Chang, Claire Fontaine, Evan Greulich, Asher Intebi, Marissa Jordan, Estrella Juarez, Kelsey Kaiser, Kevin Keating, Amy McDonnold, Ashley Nguyen, Raquel Royal
Client: Texas Parks and Wildlife Division: Sea Rim State Park
Duration: Design, 9 weeks; Build, 5 weeks, 5 days on site
Sea Rim State Park, located west of Port Arthur along the Texas/Louisiana line, borders the Gulf of Mexico, with beach camping and swimming its most popular draws. Yet, most of the park’s four-thousand acres are wetlands, more akin to the chenier plain of coastal Louisiana than the barrier islands of the Texas coastline. After being wiped out by Hurricanes Rita and Ike in quick succession, the Park hopes to draw visitors back by offering a unique primitive camping experience, as well as offer environmentalists, biologists, and ornithologists a base from which to conduct ecological research (as the Park is surrounded by the petroleum industry). The idea for two floating platforms, which no other Texas Park offers, arose from these goals.
The studio spent significant time on site, investigating and focusing on the poetic and elemental qualities of water and how the design might reveal deeper relationships within this unique saltwater marsh. It is a vast, thin, and astoundingly flat environment, rich in wildlife of all kinds.
Platform Flats, the site chosen for Float, is a five mile round trip kayak trek from the beach launch, and its narrow access channel measures only five feet in some parts. As such, each component built on campus was less than four feet wide. During the design process, funding was adjusted so that only one of the two designs could be fully built. The studio, with input from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, combined the best ideas from each scheme and developed a four-person platform with a wayfinding tower.
As part of primitive camping, visitors are required to take out everything they bring in, including human waste. Thus, the tower conceals a toilet area that also helps kayakers find their way to the platform. Clad in a full privacy screen of steel and treated lumber up to six feet high, its upper portion is porous, allowing wind to pass through the tower and prevent overturning during storms.
How can we, as architects, transform a place to create a richer reality while respecting its essential character? Float contrasts intrinsic relationships within Platform Flats to reveal the beauty of the elements (water, sky, grasses) themselves, thereby offering visitors an opportunity to better understand the character and spirit of this particular place.