The Louisiana Coastal Marsh loses a football-field-size of land every hour. Architect Robert Obier, who was raised in Louisiana, designed an eco-lodge for volunteers who want to help with restoration efforts as local groups – and even oil and gas companies – scramble to save this disappearing ecosystem. His design for The RIG, which stands for Restoration Initiative in the Gulf, caught our attention, and Inhabitat spoke with Obier to get the story behind its distinctive shape – which is reminiscent of an offshore oil rig.
If nothing is done to preserve the Louisiana Coastal Marsh – Earth’s fastest disappearing landmass – it will be gone by 2050. Capitalizing on the growing trend of volunteerism, The RIG would offer accommodations for 26 volunteers, who would work on wetland restoration led by community facilitators.
Obier is seeking LEED Platinum certification for The RIG, which will be comprised mainly of steel. Wind and solar power will help energize the building, which will also have its own water and sewer treatment facilities. Part boutique hotel, part research operations launching point, The RIG will be raised 25 feet above the ground, offering views of the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel will feature local Louisiana cuisine and will offer activities like kayaking and fishing excursions.
On one hand, the industrial oil rig-like design is practical. Obier told Inhabitat, “Here the indigenous architecture that survives are the oil platforms. They’ve made it through the storms. And it’s a harsh salt environment down here that’s very hard on structures over time. From an architectural standpoint, if you ask, ‘What is the contextual architecture?’ That’s it.”
But the symbol of the oil platform is one Obier hopes to reclaim through The RIG as well. He said, “As we try to figure out ways to save the marsh, oil companies are going to have to play a very important role because they are the landowners. They’ve had a lot to do with the problem, but they’re also doing a lot to try and save it as well. So it’s complex. I think the symbol begins that dialogue, and the answer to the question, ‘Why is it designed resembling an oil rig?’ begins to explain to people who are not familiar with our region what it’s really like, and how it really is an area where industry and environment are integrated for good or bad. The solution is going to be one that does not negate the fact that there is this interaction between the industry and the marshes.”
Obier explains the marshes are disappearing in part because of the channels oil and gas companies dug to bring equipment in and out, but that’s not the whole story. The levee system, built in the 1920’s, has played a role as well. The wetlands used to be able to rebuild themselves, but now the Mississippi River prevents sediments from being redeposited, and the land is subsiding. Sea level rise from climate change has had some effect, but Obier said his understanding is if levels rise slowly enough, the area would still be able to rebuild itself if it were restored.
Volunteers will be able to help with the work by planting marsh grass or trees. Obier said, “Marshes are not pristine wilderness. So it’s a very different kind of location for something you would call an eco-lodge, but at the same time, it’s still one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. It’s in big trouble, and we’re having to make a massive effort to try to save it, but it’s an extremely important ecosystem.”
Images courtesy of The Restoration Initiative in the Gulf and via Wikimedia Commons