The Shelby Center was designed by Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects in 2008, when Watershed was still serving as the “green team” within WAV.  Built to house research facilities for scientists, the Shelby Center is a model of energy efficient design.  According to the EPA’s emissions calculator, the system is estimated to save 186,694 KwH of electricity per year, or enough to power 17-18 homes.  Solar panels  generate enough electricity to power all lighting. and a solar thermal hot water heater meets all the hot water needs of the building with the heat of the sun.

The Sea Lab campus is built on an old air force base, and the staff insisted that the new building be built “like a brick.” Low maintenance, durable, and unadorned were the marching orders given to the architects. The unique raw building approach lets structure and systems be exposed, eliminating unnecessary layers of finish materials while reducing waste and material use. Interestingly, this approach resulted in a slightly lower calculated percentage of building materials with recycled content, compared to a building with layers of finishes. However, the simplified approach allowed the use of local materials for 35% of the total building materials in the project. Considering that half of the area within 500 miles of the job site is the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this was an impressive feat. The reduction in finish materials in turn reduced the amount of waste on the job site during construction. At the end of the job, the contractor was able to recycle over 90% of the construction waste.

The grounds surrounding the building were designed as a coastal meadow to provide both habitat for migratory birds and butterflies, and storm water absorption and filtration services for the building. During one rain event, these sandy swales are capable of absorbing and filtering over 40,000 gallons of storm water, enough to fill one and a third swimming pools. Strategically placed trees in the landscape help block glare on the western facade and supplement the buildings solar shading strategy.

The Shelby Center was designed to harvest daylight in its core with north facing clerestories. Exterior windows are deeply shaded on the south, and let in more light on the northern facade. Eastern and West facing glass has a lower visible light transmittance to mitigate glare. In the curved glass wall of the lobby, visitors can observe the tinted darker glass on the east and west fading into more transparent glazing to the north.  Unlike other research facilities on campus, interior windows share views throughout the building and create a social research atmosphere intended to encourage collaborative research.


Size:          13,500 SF
Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Location:  Dauphin Island, AL
Role:          Architecture and LEED Consulting