The Riparian Wetland Center embodies the transformation of the Mississippi River Bank from an industrial brownfield into a reclaimed natural system. As the Mississippi River Wetlands are reclaimed, the Riparian Wetland Center emerges as the remaining industrial ruin –a utilitarian box –discovered beyond the threshold of city and nature.
The box is lifted off the newly created wetland inlet. Water flows around and underneath the building, and the site is connected to the building through the bridges that extend beyond the enclosure and transform into walkways leading to the wetlands. Once the site is transformed into a natural ecology, the intervention of the building expresses how industrial architecture can be transformed to suit the needs of people to experience wetlands, and how the building can coexist with nature and the river.
The box evolves with patterns of use on two realms: the utilitarian spaces house the ‘fixed’ program. Where use is maintained over time and flexibility is provided to respond to long term evolution. The box’s program is organized around a central atrium. It becomes the funnel for people from city to river. It is shaped by specific structure – providing for rapidly changing patterns of use to transform its space. The atrium is the building’s river, with tributaries to bring people from interior program to the site.
The connection between city and river is realized through the atrium. Its centrality and openness invites flexible public program. The utilitarian spaces are organized around it. They are not organized based on public and private use, but rather by their desire to be connected to specific areas of the site and adjacent spaces. The system of bridges and walkways in turn simultaneously support the circulation and the separation between public and private.
The architectural systems are integrated, creating conditions between static and dynamic use, where the structural systems and the envelope fuse together. The articulation of structural forms generates a new perception of industry and river. Here, the tectonic imprint of man is fused together with nature in the same ways it fuses the program together.
Some nights, the specific spaces evolve to allow for social public gatherings. The building’s skin is expressed both on the interior and exterior. Comprised of a variable aluminum panel system, the skin is envisioned as a wrapper. The perforations glow as a beacon from the exterior and activate the utilitarian spaces. Materials and forms of industries of the past are harmonized and reintroduced to each other in the skin as it becomes the activating feature of the building.