The Gulf State Park Lodge set out to create an international benchmark of economic and environmental sustainability, demonstrating best practices in hospitable operation. The $85 million, 256,642 SF facility has achieved SITES Platinum, LEED Gold, and Fortified Commercial Certification, becoming the first SITES hospitality project in the world and the first certified Fortified™ Commercial Building in the world. In addition to the fortification of the building structure, the site was designed to encourage the development of secondary dunes, which strengthen the system and provide a critical buffer from storm surge. SITES was used to measure the success of the dune restoration and the development of the landscape around the lodge as working green infrastructure. A traditional hotel landscape mostly serves as “decoration,” and requires a significant amount of water, energy and chemical pesticides and fertilizers to maintain. In contrast, the lodge landscape provides habitat for wildlife, buffers the buildings from future storm surges, and naturally filters and absorbs stormwater through wetlands and swales. In short, it was designed to optimize all of those services that intact ecosystems inherently provide, while also creating a beautiful vacation setting for guests.
Many endangered or threatened species use the Gulf Coast for feeding or nesting grounds, and its serves as a critical migratory flyway. In response, the team dedicated 10 acres of the original lodge site to dune restoration. Within the smaller site of the new lodge, the final building is surrounded by a 14.5 acre restored coastal landscape. Lighting and glazing were carefully selected to protect migrating birds and sea turtles.
In the end, the goal of the certifications and the design is to offer guests a rich eco-tourism experience, and a glimpse of a different relationship between buildings and nature, one that is mutually supportive. Whether visitors are watching the sun set from a porch nestled in the dunes, instead of turf grass, looking out over Lake Shelby from their balcony, instead of over a parking lot, or enjoying a gorgeous view of white sands and blue waters during a meeting, instead of gathering in a windowless conference center, the Lodge at Gulf State Park offers a unique guest experience and is positioned to serve the growing eco-tourism market. Many guests won’t be aware of the technical design moves that resulted in LEED, SITES, and FORTIFIED certification, which is fine with us. But all of the guests, including the sea turtles, beach mice, and birds that share the coast with us, will enjoy the results.
“After the BP oil spill disaster, our region had a hard reckoning with the reality that the our economy and environment are mutually dependent. People’s lives were deeply affected by the economic devastation of the oil spill, resulting from the environmental devastation. This project was funded by BP settlement funds, and SITES helped us to demonstrate that best practices in restoration and conservation actually support a healthy economy. People protect what they love, and this project will help more people fall in love with Alabama’s Gulf Coast.” Rebecca Dunn Bryant, AIA, Principal Architect at Watershed, LLC.