Inside Out
University of Virginia
Fred Wolf, Professor
2002, Four Months

The Portsmouth Oceanic Institute is sited in an area of urban decline in the tidewater region of Virginia. Sixties and seventies era planning left the waterfront with a series of offset and windowless government buildings - doing little to engage the active harbour or government employees inhabiting the surrounding buildings.

  • Thus, this project has two aims:
  • 1. to reengage the public with the waterfront
  • 2. to strengthen and connect the core program of the institute the public: aquarium, theatre and library the private: labs, service core and offices
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The solution to both of these problems was to celebrate the service aspects of research and educational aquariums. Instead of hiding all the mechanical systems, tank support and diligent aquarium workers - these once hidden aspects would become attractions as well. This inside-out building would counter the illegible facades of the institute's surroundings. The idea being, that a public more aware of what drives the waterfront and the research facilities on it, will have a better and more critical understanding of it.
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The plan of institute is laid out so that at any given point in the circulation path of a particular program one is always referencing another complementary program. This reflexive layout combined with increased transparency allows for building to inform its occupants and visitors. Each program piece is overlaid and slipped past one another to allow for intermixing as well - lab workers can talk to a diver or the service crew can swap stories with the office staff.
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The open layout, increased transparency and intermixed program create a building as theatre. This activated wrapper encloses a large public park in the center of the plan. This fully accessible green space can hopefully start to mend the urban decline by acting as a catalyst to the surrounding businesses.
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