When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, a 30-ft tidal surge destroyed much of the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum and its collection in Biloxi, Miss. Since then the museum has been working diligently to design and build a new complex on the museum’s original site, with expanded gallery and exhibit spaces and new community facilities.
A primary goal of this project was to build a structure that is stronger and more resilient to catastrophic events, says Daria Pizzetta, AIA, principal of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. “We wanted to design a large mass that would protect the museum’s artifacts, but also allow for a design with much visual interest,” she says.
The biggest initial challenge was building a new facility that could withstand hurricane force winds. The team considered numerous exterior wall materials and systems, including concrete masonry units with finished face materials and panelized systems with structural post supports. But they ultimately found that precast concrete panels would provide the most economical and structurally appropriate material for the building. “We chose precast for its ability to sustain high velocity impacts associated with hurricanes, but also for its durability and insulating qualities,” Pizzetta says.
The precast concrete panels also met Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) durability requirements, which was vital as FEMA provided funds for the project. “The use of precast for the exterior wall system met the impact test criteria for wind-borne debris and provided a secure envelop for museum’s artifacts.”
Precast concrete also played a major role in achieving the aesthetic goals of the museum that reflects the context of the surrounding neighborhood. The design features a white lap siding pattern that gives the building shadow lines to add visual interest to the façade while evoking memories of the fisherman’s cottages that once proliferated in this historic neighborhood. The lap siding pattern also allowed for a large-format panel system, featuring customized 10-foot-wide by 25-foot-tall panels, which simplified casting and sped erection, saving time and money.
The resulting structure has become a welcoming centerpiece to the community that is more than just a museum, she says. “It serves as a symbol of resilience as the city continues to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, and provides a new place for the community to come together and honor its heritage, year-round.”