For this project, a series of strategic enhancements were designed to maximize the natural assets of the Lake Shelby Picnic Area in Gulf State Park. The first step was to completely rework the existing site plan, creating a more cohesive parking, pedestrian and biker circulation scheme which preserves all of the existing trees. A number of new amenities have been added including a restroom building with events deck and amphitheater seating, a dog park and pavilion, a natural playground and support for outdoor events such as food truck markets. The design also includes tailored facelifts to the existing structures.
Additionally, a number of other targeted projects were undertaken throughout the park to increase usability, connectivity, and wayfinding.
Gulf State Park is located on the coast of Alabama and is home to 6,500 acres of protected land. Though there are 2 1/2 miles of beach shoreline, the majority of the Park lies inland. Originally 9 1/2 miles of trails connected various destinations in the Park. ArchitectureWorks worked with the State to design and implement more than 25 miles of trails across the Park, creating loop systems to encourage visitors’ eduction of the various ecosystems unique to the area. The vehicular-free system includes paved trails and elevated boardwalks connected to the beachfront traials by two pedestrian bridges. The trails create a universally accessible system for all ages and abilities to safely experience the Park.
In addition to the Trails, our firm designed a variety of Pause Places to escape the heat of the summer or the cold winter winds. The respites are scattered in the Park and each creates a unique experience at its location. The Pause Places also create informal meeting places where visitors are encouraged to meet one another and share experiences.
A hub for park visitors, K-12 students, rotating researchers, and park staff, the Gulf State Park Learning Campus rounds out the park’s offerings through its classrooms, laboratories, flexible meeting spaces and lodging options. Built on a previously developed area in an evergreen forest, the Campus demonstrates sustainable building practices and cultivates stewardship through interactive environmental programming. Site design of the Campus encourages visitors to park the car and use a pedestrian core, creating various experiences amid native longleaf pines and live oaks. The Student Lodge, equipped with 64 bunk beds and 2 private rooms, and a Community Restaurant are a short walk-in-the-woods away from Classrooms and a 200-seat Auditorium, the Park’s primary learning destinations for exhibits and formal research. Connected by boardwalks and characterized by screened porches nestled under the trees, the classrooms provide learning opportunities everywhere.
AIA Birmingham Design Awards, Honor Award, 2022
A gateway to Gulf State Park’s 6,150 acres, the Interpretive Center serves as one of the Park’s learning destinations. A combination of indoor exhibits and outdoor exhibits with interactive components teach visitors about dune ecosystems and our Gulf Coast environment. A large exhibit porch overlooks the primary, secondary and tertiary dune systems and serves as a refuge from the summer heat. The expansive orientation deck connects to a sand play area and to boardwalks reaching out into the Park encouraging the visitor to explore the rich ecosystems found throughout.
The project is a model of sustainability and resiliency on the Gulf Coast. The project is pursuing Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum Certifications. The building is sited to account for storm surge, sea level rise and protection of the primary dune line setback. Building orientation, regional, renewable materials, and environmental technologies contribute deeply to the project’s resiliency.