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Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve - Sustainability Meets Passive Survivability on the Gulf Coast

Jim Nicolow, AIA, LEED® AP, Lord, Aeck & Sargent

The biologically diverse, 18,400-acre Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), located in Southeast Mississippi, will soon have a "green" interpretive and research center. Administered by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR), the Grand Bay NERR facility will adhere to a rigorous set of energy and water saving criteria and is targeting LEED Gold Certification. The building's design overlays smart sustainable strategies such as daylight harvesting light shelves, sun shading overhangs and displacement ventilation, with coastal vernacular elements such as low slung roofs, deep porches, and a one-story wood-framed structure elevated on pilings. Sited in an area with frequent, extended weather-related power outages, daylighting, natural ventilation, and external shading were seen not just as energy savings strategies but as means of making the building inhabitable when power is interrupted. An innovative thermal storage system dramatically reduces the size of the building's cooling plant while contributing to a 40 percent improvement over code. Harvested rainwater will be utilized for toilet flushing and hosing down research boats.

The facility combines exhibit, education, research, residential, and administrative space with a program that includes:

  • Interpretive exhibits pertaining to the local ecology, which encompasses coastal bay, expansive saltwater marshes, maritime pine forest, pine savanna and pitcher plant bogs.
  • Classrooms.
  • Laboratories for use by NERR and academic partner researchers.
  • A dormitory for visiting researchers and graduate students studying coastal ecology.
  • Administrative office space for staff members of the Grand Bay NERR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the lands on which the facility is being sited.

The poster will provide an overview of the sustainable design strategies employed and explore their interface with the concept of passive survivability in a post-Katrina environment.

Labs21 Connection:

Consistent with the Labs21 Approach, the project began with a goal-setting eco charrette involving the entire design team. A key goal of the research facility was to serve as a demonstration of ecologically responsible design and construction in this unique, fragile coastal environment. The LEED Rating System was utilized to establish and track environmental and performance goals for the project. Building simulation, including thermal modeling, daylight simulation, and shading analysis were conducted to optimize whole-building performance. Nationally-recognized green architectural and mechanical firms were strategically partnered with local firms to ramp up regional green design capabilities.


Jim Nicolow leads the sustainability initiative at Lord, Aeck & Sargent, an architectural firm with offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His role is to facilitate the incorporation of sustainable design strategies and features into the firm's design projects and to spearhead efforts to integrate the use of quantitative analysis to inform the firm's sustainable design work. Lord, Aeck & Sargent is a Labs21 Supporter and Jim Nicolow participated in the development of EPC Version 2.

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