Pettigrew State Park Visitor Center


2019 AIA Triangle Merit Award - Unbuilt

Location: Creswell, North Carolina
Project Size: 6,500 SF
Status: In-Progress

Pettigrew State Park hugs the banks of Lake Phelps, the state’s second largest natural lake, in forming a rich environmental band teaming with flora and fauna. Pettigrew is also home to Somerset Place, a pre-Civil War era plantation and North Carolina Historic Site, and Native American artifacts dating back over 4,400 years. In the midst of this diverse, historic, and beautiful landscape, the new visitor center provides a welcoming front door to the park and its myriad activities, ecologies, and histories.

Rather than recreate the past, the new visitor center transforms cues from the surrounding context into a strikingly modern design. The building is conceived of as a large porch—a traditional Southern staple that provides shelter, encourages relaxation, and welcomes visitors. The resulting “porch” is lifted off the ground like the park’s lakefront boardwalks, and perforated metal panels act like the adjacent forest canopy in screening visitors from the warm sun. Beneath the porch roof, a simple volume featuring interactive exhibits pulls visitors through the length of the building to display the park’s history and splendor.

The park’s remote setting—15 minutes from a town of only 300 people—and agrarian context highlight the dynamic relationship between humans and the natural environment. The lake’s organic edges and crystal-clear waters feed painstakingly-created canals that enrich a vast geometric patchwork of soybean fields. Yet for as much as people are increasingly connected via technology, science, and transportation, the park and visitor center provide an opportunity to absorb information in a much more tactile, authentic way. The porches at the building’s ends create covered transitional spaces highlighting the park’s history and setting. The entry opens up to receive visitors, look toward Somerset Place, and seamlessly connect hikers to the lake-front trail, while the west end connects the multipurpose room to a field of native grasses used for events like the annual Native American festival and provides easy access to the nearby campground. Rich exhibit spaces teaming with collections unique to the park, including a black bear and an Algonquian dugout canoe, pull visitors into and through the building.