WATERSHED served as the Gulf Coast Sustainability Specialist for the Gulf State Park Lodge Design team, led by Rabun Rasche Rector Reese and Lake Flato Architects. Our role was to translate the vision and master plan for the Gulf State Park into measurable sustainability goals within the LEED, SITES, and Fortified™ Rating Systems, and verify their achievement through the certification process.
The Lodge used the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system to measure building performance in terms of water conservation, energy conservation, healthy indoor environments, and wise material use. LEED is the most widely used green building certification system in the world today, with over 96,000 LEED buildings in over 160 countries. It is the gold standard of green buildings and was critical to validating the Lodge’s status as a true eco-tourism destination.
The SITES rating system for sustainable landscapes was used to measure the success of the dune restoration and the development of the landscape around the lodge as working green infrastructure. A traditional hotel landscape mostly serves as “decoration,” and requires a significant amount of water, energy and chemical pesticides and fertilizers to maintain. In contrast, the lodge landscape provides habitat for wildlife, buffers the buildings from future storm surges, and naturally filters and absorbs stormwater through wetlands and swales. In short, it was designed to optimize all of those services that intact ecosystems inherently provide, while also creating a beautiful vacation setting for guests. The lodge landscape will require careful maintenance initially, until the wetland and dune vegetation is fully established. However, once established, vegetation will continue to spread and reseed through natural processes. At that point the lodge maintenance staff will step back into the role of watchdog and guardian, monitoring ecosystem health and guarding against the spread of invasive species.
The Lodge is now the first SITES hospitality project in the world and the first certified Fortified™ Commercial Building in the world, raising the bar for resilient structural design and land development projects.
The Fortified™ certification requires above code structural design, incorporating additional safety factors, and utilizing building materials and installation methods that have been rigorously tested to resist hurricane force winds.
In addition to the fortification of the building structure, the design team performed a biological assessment of the dune ecosystem, and detailed hydrological modeling to determine the site’s resilience to storm surge and future sea level rise. The results of that analysis were used to determine the ideal location and elevation for the buildings of the lodge. The completed buildings are set back 200’ from the coastal construction line and primary dunes, in order to allow the development of secondary dunes, which strengthen the system and provide a critical buffer from storm surge.
The lodge site was predetermined by the funding application, and is located in one of the most vulnerable and ecologically important areas of the park. Many endangered or threatened species use the Gulf Coast for feeding or nesting grounds, and its serves as a critical migratory flyway. In response, the team dedicated 10 acres of the original lodge site to dune restoration. Within the smaller site of the new lodge, the final building is surrounded by a 14.5 acre restored coastal landscape. The lighting was designed, inspected and carefully tuned to minimize disturbances to sea turtles and migrating birds and the glass has a very fine pattern that makes it visible to birds in order to reduce accidental bird strikes.
In the end, the goal of the certifications and the design is to offer guests a rich eco-tourism experience, and a glimpse of a different relationship between buildings and nature, one that is mutually supportive. Whether visitors are watching the sun set from a porch nestled in the dunes, instead of turf grass, looking out over Lake Shelby from their balcony, instead of over a parking lot, or enjoying a gorgeous view of white sands and blue waters during a meeting, instead of gathering in a windowless conference center, the Lodge at Gulf State Park offers a unique guest experience and is positioned to serve the growing eco-tourism market. Many guests won’t be aware of the technical design moves that resulted in LEED, SITES, and FORTIFIED certifications, which is fine with us. But all of the guests, including the sea turtles, beach mice, and birds that share the coast with us, will enjoy the results.