St. Landry Parish serves as the northern gateway to Louisiana’s Acadiana region. The proposal for a new visitor center along Interstate 49 was an opportunity to provide visitors their first glimpse of the forests, swamps, and prairies typical of this diverse landscape. Through interpretations of these native landscapes at the new St. Landry Parish Visitor’s Center, travelers are able to gain an understanding of the region’s distinctive character.
The landscape goes beyond simple visual representations of native landscapes, performing numerous functions to create a comprehensively sustainable and resilient site. Innovative stormwater management, on-site renewable energy, and re-use of many salvaged materials are closely integrated with building systems to serve as a showcase for sustainable development strategies.
The design team, led by a close collaboration between landscape architects and architects, embraced the ideals of an integrated design methodology and sustainable development principles that celebrated regional ecologies and culture. These became the guiding influences for the proposed design, which originated as the winning submission in a design competition facilitated by the St. Landry Parish Visitor and Tourist Commission in 2008. This new visitor center, along Interstate 49 at the northern edge of the Acadiana region, features interpreted native landscapes, rain gardens, exhibit spaces, restrooms, and outdoor gathering / event areas with exhibits that unravel the landscapes, ecology, and history of this unique region.
The visitor experience begins within a parking zone composed of loose and permeable milled asphalt, harvested from a nearby highway resurfacing project. Paths are paved with native aggregates, and visitors view open spaces planted with meadow grasses native to the prairies of the parish. At the Visitor Center, a seamless transition between architecture and site is very evident, with a direct sight line through the central lobby to the landscapes beyond. Elevated porches and boardwalks stretch around to a covered outdoor room. The boardwalk extends into the landscape, guiding the viewer’s eye towards the long, linear view of the horizon. The walks give access to the lush rain gardens and a procession of interpretive kiosks that punctuate the boardwalk, conveying information in both English and French, as to the history, culture, and ecology of the parish and region. Our firm was integral in the site placement and design of exterior spaces continuous with architecture.
Within a rural region such as Acadiana, where landscapes are dominant, this design is a full integration of building and landscape, connected by visible sustainable strategies. The architects and landscape architects worked closely together at the intersection of building and landscape, prioritizing the landscape and outdoor experience in architectural decisions. Interpretations of traditional Louisiana building responses such as deep-shaded porches, raised elevations for protection from rising waters, sloped roofs, and cistern-collected rainwater are used in tandem with more current responses such as the vertical axis wind turbine and roof integrated solar panels. Thoughtfully selected native building materials are dominant; these include the use of recycled brick, native aggregates, milled asphalt, recycled metal, and salvaged longleaf pine and cypress. The visitor’s center showcases how both old and new sustainable practices along with appropriate material selections can work together for a current, regional response.
With an annual rainfall of 60-70 inches, the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center strives to responsibly manage its stormwater runoff. To do so, rain gardens collect all on-site storm and roof water via ground swales and rain chains that direct excess roof water through gulf oyster shell runnels. These gardens are accented by grids of bald cypress and brimming with eight varieties of native Louisiana iris. For all shades of green, there is an aesthetic and functional purpose. These landscapes are the centerpiece of the design and frame the exhibit hall, all while serving as a biological filter for adjacent parking and cistern overflow.
The visitor center was designed to be functionally sustainable and resilient through harsh environmental conditions and major weather events. There are no exterior painted surfaces to maintain, no lawns to mow, and spatial programming that combines multiple uses such as tourist commission offices, meeting space and exhibit halls, with the everyday convenience of the typical rest area essentials. Set near a flood zone, the site has already withstood one major water event, with minimal site damage.
This project exemplifies the best from an intensely collaborative design process, where architects deferred site and exterior space design and landscape to landscape architects, and articulated a building response that prioritized the landscape and outdoor spaces, porches, event space and boardwalks, more than the architecture. This commission allowed our firm and the architects to work simultaneously, creating a continuous dialogue through planning, design resolution, and construction, therefore making our sustainable, cultural, and interpretive goals a significant priority, and the results of our collective efforts better.
The St. Landry Parish Visitor Center has numerous advantages that give it a beautiful, resilient, sustainable, and educational dialogue that allows it to serve as a precedent in the region and elsewhere. With its environmentally sensitive design and acknowledgement of regional materials, it creates a light footprint on the landscape. Visitors receive an education in these design practices and insight into the local ecology, culture and traditions. The project has transformed the concept of the visitor experience for the state agencies who develop and manage similar facilities, and has become an educational model for students from multiple disciplines.
Product Sources [required for built projects]: LIGHTING
Louisiana Iris varieties:
Native Meadow Seed Mix: