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Seaside Hall, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

VIA Design Architects, P.C.

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Project Description


The Virginia Institute of Marine Science [VIMS] maintains an integral presence in the coastal community of Wachapreague, Virginia. For over 40 years, this small town on the Eastern Shore has played host to one of several satellite campuses that VIMS maintains throughout the state’s various watersheds. The Wachapreague campus, known as the Eastern Shore Lab [ESL], features facilities geared specifically towards oceanographic research.

Within the ESL campus, Seaside Hall serves as the on-land laboratory facility as well as the multi-purpose education hall and lecture hall. The previous facility to occupy the building site burned down in November of 2010, and a new facility was quickly needed. The premise supplied for the new design was as direct as the event causing the need: build a one-for-one replacement of the previous structure - to be programmatically identical, maintain a similar footprint, and even reuse the existing foundation.

The design process started with a careful study of the project setting - the historical context of the town, the technical requirements of the site, and the growth of an educational campus. Because the structure is located within the flood plain, the new building was raised significantly compared to the previous structure. We saw this as an opportunity to accentuate a beautiful pile structure as well as increase the building’s presence along the street. A screened porch was added to the original program to support the client’s desire for usable outdoor space for the students. This new component became a driving element for the building form and a vehicle for our studies. Inspiration was drawn from the historic town vernacular - from facade proportions, to materiality, to screen patterns and roof forms. Contextual architectural and site cues were therefore not only taken from the Town of Wachapreague, but from the orientation, proportions, and materiality of the ESSL. The main entrance stairs to the porch of Seaside Hall align with the entrance stairs of the ESSL, serving as a transition from the skewed site grid on the eastern side of street to the orthogonal grid of the Town of Wachapreague on the western side. The wooden support piers and porch columns on Seaside Hall provide a visual connection to the ESSL entry trellis, while simultaneously adding warmth to both structures. Finally, the standing seam roof on the porch of Seaside Hall not only strengthens the verticality of the porch and its roof form, but also provides a direct material connection to the ESSL.

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