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New Museum Replaces One Leveled by Hurricane Katrina

Exterior rendering of the new Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, in Biloxi, Mississippi
The new Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, in Biloxi, Mississippi, is being constructed on the same site as the former museum, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Especially at night when the museum is illuminated the focus will be on the Nydia. Robert Stansbury/Walter T. Bolton Associates

Designed to withstand high flooding and hurricane-force winds, the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum has been reconstructed, in Biloxi, Mississippi.

July 1, 2014—When Hurricane Katrina lashed the southern United States in 2005, the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, in Biloxi, Mississippi, didn’t stand a chance. Located on a peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the museum and nearly all of its contents were decimated in the storm’s 30 ft tidal surge. Now, nearly nine years after the storm, the city is preparing to open the newly reconstructed museum, which is designed to sustain severe flooding and hurricane-force winds.

The Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum opened in 1986 in a former U.S. Coast Guard building in an area known as Point Cadet. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the maritime history and heritage of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In 2003, the museum expanded the Coast Guard building to display more vintage boats and other artifacts representing the area’s rich maritime culture. But on August 29, 2005, the building was leveled by Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest natural disasters in the history of the United States.

According to published reports, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded the city of Biloxi $3.44 million to rebuild the museum. The city initially planned to work with a local architect to construct the new museum on a different site, but those plans changed when historical artifacts and a nearby Native American burial ground were discovered at that location. The city then decided to rebuild the museum at its former location and hired New York City-based H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture to design the new structure. Thompson Engineering, a firm headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, served as the structural engineer on the project.

The 19,580 sq ft museum will have three levels. The lobby, a ticketing center and gift shop, public meeting rooms, and exhibition space will all be located on the first level. A grand staircase will lead to the second level, which will house the museum’s new crown jewel—a 35 ft long sloop that is 40 ft tall with its mast. The boat, the Nydia, was built in Biloxi in 1896. The remainder of the second floor will house a library, a video display area, and hands-on activities—but it will mostly be dedicated to wooden boats and ships. A replica Biloxi skiff, a Biloxi catboat, and a Chris Craft motorboat will be among its collection. The third floor will house additional gallery space—including an exhibit devoted to hurricanes—and an overlook will offer a bird’s eye view of the Nydia.

Elongated in shape, the museum will be oriented in the north-south direction on the site. Daria Pizzetta, AIA, a partner of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, notes that the museum will be the first thing motorists see when crossing the nearby Biloxi Bridge, which carries Highway 90 from Ocean Springs into Biloxi. The museum’s northeast corner will face the bridge and will be clad entirely in a glass curtainwall. The Nydia will be displayed in that corner and will be visible to motorists. “The bridge’s apex is about 90 ft above the water, so as you’re coming down that slope into Biloxi, you will see the Nydia,” Pizzetta says. “Especially at night when the lights are on, the focus will be on the boat.”

The museum's new crown jewel is a 35 ft long wooden boat known as the Nydia

The museum's new crown jewel is a 35 ft long wooden boat
known as the Nydia. Built in Biloxi in 1896, the boat was lifted
into the museum with a crane and the remainder of the museum
was constructed around it. Robert Stansbury/Walter T. Bolton

The exhibits are not the only things that have influenced the museum’s design. The site has also played a key role. The FEMA classifies the Point Cadet site as an AE Zone—a coastal area that is “subject to inundation by the 1-percent-annual-chance flood level event determined by detailed methods.” According to the agency’s website, all buildings constructed in AE Zones must be elevated to or above the area’s base flood elevation. Pizzetta, who is originally from Biloxi, says the standards made the project unusual. “I had never worked on a FEMA project that had so many technical requirements for elevation,” she says. 

To meet the FEMA guidelines, the museum’s first level is elevated 2 ft above the base flood elevation and 20 ft above grade. As a result, the building has an open space below it that the museum plans to use for “living exhibits” that demonstrate such traditional skills as ship building and oyster shucking, Pizzetta says. “The museum has Sea and Sail Adventure Camps for the kids in Biloxi during the summertime, so now they have a covered space where they can have camp,” she says. Southern yellow pine cladding encloses a portion of that space; the same material is also used for the stairs that lead to the museum’s entrance.

The museum is founded on 16 in. diameter, augered and cast-in-place concrete piles, descending to a depth of approximately 52 ft. A pile foundation was determined to be the best solution given the building’s elevation, weight, and geometry. The soil conditions and other site constraints also impacted the foundation design. “We didn’t have the option of doing a shallow foundation, even if it would have been acceptable to the flood requirements,” says Todd Capes, P.E., a senior structural engineer for Thompson Engineering. “The building structure didn’t lend itself to that. It’s a heavy structure for its size.”

Reinforced-concrete walls extend upward from the foundations to frame the museum’s elevator and stair shafts, and shear walls extend through the building. The remainder of the structure is supported by a series of reinforced-concrete columns. While most of those columns stop at the museum’s first floor, six 36 in. diameter columns at the front of the building extend beyond the timber entry deck to the museum’s second level. The second-level gallery cantilevers approximately 6 ft past these concrete columns on the north and east sides of the building.

Above the columns, the museum’s first floor is framed in reinforced concrete, while its two upper levels feature structural steel framing. “We thought steel framing would be more efficient to achieve the design that the architect wanted above the first level,” Capes explains. “On the north side, about half of the building is a vaulted gallery space with some curtainwall systems that required steel for the desired look.”

To meet the FEMA’s standards for base wind loads of 140 mph, engineers relied on international building codes that follow ASCE 7-05, “Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures.” Robert Harvey, P.E., the structural department manager for Thompson Engineering, notes that while wind wouldn’t have much impact on the design of a comparably sized building in other parts of the country, the loads are significant in Biloxi. In addition to sustaining forces from the wind loads, the building’s glass facade is designed to withstand the impact of a 2 in. by 4 in. piece of wood flying at 140 mph, Pizzetta says. 

The west and south faces of the new museum will feature concrete with a pattern

While the museum's northeast corner will have a curtain wall
facade, its west and south faces will feature concrete with a
pattern that recalls the white clapboard siding of the houses that
once surrounded the site. Robert Stansbury/Walter T. Bolton

While the museum’s northern and eastern facades are almost entirely glass, its southern and western facades are precast concrete that is patterned to resemble the white clapboard siding of the houses that once surrounded the site. Families who worked in the fishing industry, including Pizzetta’s grandparents, lived in those houses from the turn of the last century until the homes were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. “That was a gesture toward the community,” Pizzetta says. “We didn’t want to just put some modern glass structure here that had no relationship to the grounds it is sitting on.” Vertical and horizontal metal fins on the museum’s windows will recall the corrugated tin roofs that capped the houses and will provide protection from solar gain.

The museum’s construction began in December 2012. One challenge that arose during construction was getting the Nydia into the museum. Before the exterior walls were erected, a crane was used to lift the Nydia and a Lapeyre Automatic Shrimp Peeling Machine Model A, a machine used to peel shrimp that has an American Society of Mechanical Engineers Historic Landmark designation, into the building. The remainder of the structure was then built around them. Should the Nydia or any of the other artifacts need to be taken out of the museum, a davit and winch system will be used to carry them out of the large garage doors at the building’s back.

The museum is scheduled to open on August 1. The designers hope the new museum will attract people to the area in much the same way that the original museum did before that fateful day in August 2005. “We hope it’s a sustainable structure that draws people to come out and see what the Gulf Coast maritime industry has to offer,” Harvey says. “And as people come here and enjoy learning the history of the maritime industry along the Gulf Coast, hopefully they will enjoy the building as well, and it can have a positive impact on tourism.”



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