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    - photo by Luther Melville

For the past eight years, students from The University of Texas at Austin, led by Professor Coleman Coker, have participated in the Gulf Coast Design Lab (GCDL): Over a 10-week semester, studio members collaborate with stakeholders to design and build ecologically and civically minded projects along the Texas Gulf Coast. In the heat of Summer 2019, Coker’s Public Interest Design studio partnered with the Galveston Bay Foundation to produce “SHIFT,” an outdoor environmental education pavilion overlooking the water in Kemah, a bedroom community of Houston.

After five weeks of producing and refining designs with members of the Galveston Bay Foundation, the team moved into construction. “We try to fabricate as much as we can on campus to cut the time on-site,” Coker says. “Once we do that, we pack up our tools, pack up the components, rent a U-Haul, and drive it down there.” Aside from the structural steel, which was installed by a local fabricator, the entirety of the pavilion was constructed by the members of the GCDL over a 14-day period. 

Using simple wood and steel elements, the team created an elegant outdoor space equipped with shade, seating, a bathroom, and even a Corten relief map of the Galveston Bay. Aptly named, the project is a series of shifting planes that float away from one another to frame various views of the surroundings. The pavilion serves as home base for middle and high school students as they sample water, study the local ecology, plant sea grasses, and refurbish oyster reefs around the bay’s edge. “SHIFT” is the first structure on the site of the Galveston Bay Foundation’s new home; the organization hopes to further expand education and conservation efforts with the Gessner Center — a green headquarters facility designed by Kirksey Architecture that broke ground in October. 

Sophie Aliece Hollis is TA’s editorial intern.

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