North Carolina Estuarium

project type: fabrication , graphics , museums

A Premier Installation

The North Carolina Estuarium is the “flagship” of the installations operated by The Partnership for the Sounds and is considered the premier Environmental Education facility in North Carolina. The mission of the Estuarium is to educate the public about the importance and fragility of the Tar-Pamlico Estuary, which exists adjacent to the facility, and of all estuarine systems. Design Dimension joined with Frank Harmon, Architect; David Swanson, Landscape Architect; and J. A. Wetzel Associates to develop a project which combines the design of the building, the exhibits, and the landscape into a rich, seamless experience for the visitor that is both educational and entertaining.

The Landscape Begins the Experience

The Estuarium sequence begins as soon as visitors leave their vehicles. The grounds adjacent to the building have been designed with a combined focus on environmental responsibility and education. Crushed oyster shell walkways lead to the building through the waterfront park. Storm water drainage is channeled through oyster shell dissipaters into wetland detention ponds. These ponds serve as habitats for turtles and for herbaceous and aquatic plants. Weather and river monitoring equipment is located on a bulkhead along the river’s edge; additional bulkheads serve as a canoe livery service for visitors.

The Exhibits

The exhibit sequence begins upon entering the building. A kinetic sculpture dances along the perimeter of the lobby, welcoming the visitor. A 15-minute audiovisual presentation, “Journey Through the Peninsula,” is shown at the next stop, the Auditorium. The visitor then learns about the ecology and environmental importance of the peninsula through a series of interactive exhibits which focus on the Tar-Pamlico Watershed, the Tar-Pamlico River, and the Pamlico Sound. The exhibits incorporate numerous aquariums, touch tanks, zoetropes, lift-and-drops, slider and push button interactives, and artifacts. The next exhibit space, “People and the Pamlico,” chronicles life along the river from a historical perspective. “Voices and Viewpoints” is an audiovisual presentation which combines interviews with local citizens with archival photography, postcards, etc. The issues confronting the contemporary ecology of the region are the focus of the next exhibits. The sequence ends at the “Discovery Lab,” where lab tables, benches, and graphics encourage the visitor to test water samples from the Tar-Pamlico River. This area also houses the weather and water monitoring readouts (nutrients, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and salinity) and interpretive information about these figures.