Design: Save the Bay

This nonprofit's flagship facility on Narragansett Bay embodies its environmental mission.

Text by Jeff Book

Save the Bay's headquarters building in Providence, Rhode Island, is green from top to bottom. Croxton Collaborative Architects gave the low-slung structure two wings. One houses administrative offices; the other, classrooms for educational programs. The wings meet at a central atrium that showcases the object of the group's efforts: Narragansett Bay.

The entrance floor is a huge map of the bay in laser-cut linoleum (a long-proven organic material). Skylights and clerestories supply ample, energy-saving daylight, diffused by sailcloth baffles suspended from the ceiling. A green roof ties the building to the setting and reduces runoff. The design employs many other Earth-friendly elements, among them rooftop photovoltaic panels, a multizone HVAC system, water-saving plumbing fixtures, and cellulose wall insulation.

"The project reflects the continuing progress of green design, from integrating technology into high-performance buildings to restoring the land and water," says architect Randolph Croxton. The 6-acre property had been an urban brownfield―in this case, a city dump. About $2 million of the tight $7 million total budget went to site remediation, including upgrading and capping the soil, installing a methane venting system, and creating landscaping that, like the green roof, absorbs and filters storm water before it reaches the bay. Half the shoreline consists of a newly formed salt marsh that fosters intertidal marine life and prevents erosion. The swaths of beach scrub and wetland seem so natural that the sound of freighters unloading at the nearby port can be startling.

"A lot of coastal sites in Rhode Island and elsewhere are changing from industrial to residential," says Curt Spalding, Save the Bay's executive director. "This project has become a catalyst for enlightened redevelopment of urban waterfronts." He adds, "This is not just a green building, it's a healthy building. It's a place that makes people feel good."

Save the Bay; 800/627-7229 or Croxton Collaborative Architects; 212/683-1998 or