Prevailing In Spite Of Nature

With much patience and perseverance, construction on the cabins and pavilion was completed in early 2006. Today, 11 new cabins stand on the north side of Lake Shelby in Gulf State Park. Ten 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom cabins were completed, in addition to one 1,600-square-foot ADA three-bedroom, three-bathroom facility. Each cabin offers unobstructed views of Lake Shelby and access to the Gulf of Mexico. Moving away from the institutional feel of many state park facilities, the new cabins embrace a lake-house feel. With fresh, updated exteriors and eclectic interiors, visitors feel as if they are enjoying the luxuries and comforts of a friend’s vacation home rather than a typical park facility. Large windows allow natural light to flood the cabins throughout the day. The color palette includes vibrant shades of yellow bringing the sunshine in, and cool blues reflective of the waters of Lake Shelby and the Gulf. The furnishings give the cabins a true lake-house feel, resembling a home someone has furnished over time with unique, artfully mismatched pieces. In addition, the design team aimed at providing facilities that would enhance the beauty and wonder of the natural surroundings, rather than disturb the visual landscape.

Elegant Beauty

Less than a quarter mile from the cabins, standing elegantly on the beach along the Gulf of Mexico, is the new 10,000-square-foot beach pavilion. The structure takes a sculptural, almost monumental, form. Its sweeping roof responds to the winds blowing off the Gulf. With the floor at 17 feet above sea level, the height of the structure was based on Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements and a coastal engineering study verifying hurricane flood projections. The roof form grows from the substantial structure to collect a cooling ocean breeze as well as to withstand forceful winds, while also providing shade and cover for beach patrons. The roof design is a passive solar response, and offers respite from the summer sun while allowing the winter sunlight to warm the off-season patrons.

Warm materials were used to create welcoming public areas. Concrete, aluminum and wood were selected for their natural and simple makeup as well as for longevity and maintainability. In addition, they are more conducive to the often harsh coastal environment. The pavilion overlooks the Gulf and provides two covered gathering areas, a two-sided grand fireplace, restrooms with showers and a concession stand. Boardwalks extending from the pavilion allow for easy access to and from the beach. Lighting was designed to be sensitive to turtle migration. Direct light simulates the moon and encourages young turtles to migrate towards the light; therefore, all lighting had to be shielded. The facility is open to the public daily, but can also be reserved for special gatherings.

A Practical Budget

Planning for and rebuilding the Gulf State Park cabins and pavilion was a challenging process. However, the greatest challenge was simply providing the Alabama State Parks and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources with the optimum project for their budget. The state park system has a variety of wonderful facilities but, like most, it must balance the need for new projects with a heavy maintenance requirement. The overarching goal of this project was to provide buildings that are functional, attractive and easily maintained. Yet that does not mean the facilities had to be boring or plain. The park employees do a heroic job with what they have, and it is inspiring to work with them on a new project. They are well-suited to teach project designers about what works best for the situation, which may be different from that of a typical owner.

Working with DCNR was different from a typical owner. The state has numerous regulations regarding design and construction that appear to be cumbersome, but are not difficult to follow. Budgets are somewhat limited, but good design is not necessarily expensive design. A thoughtful examination of how people use a project can provide a well-designed plan that, if coupled with the clever use of standard materials and construction techniques, yields a high level of design within a limited budget. For instance, the cabin project utilized a small, highly efficient footprint with porches and decks that make them seem more gracious. Deep roof overhangs, warm interior finishes and great views make them comfortable for visitors. Likewise, the pavilion uses a dramatic roof structure providing shade and breezes in the summer, but allowing for warming sun in the cooler months. These simple solutions were born out of budget constraints but, more importantly, from inspiration from the client and the site.

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