Wetland Learning Lab

Paradise Creek Park, Portsmouth, Virginia


This outdoor classroom is sited in Paradise Creek Nature Park – a 40-acre restored wetland public park in Portsmouth, Virginia. Crisman+Petrus designed the realized project subsequent to initial studies completed in a spring 2012 UVA studio. Designed with integral and durable seating, the pavilion accommodates school classes and provides a place of respite for park visitors. The steel and concrete material palette of nearby industrial structures is combined with wood roof framing and a brightly painted artifact wall for educational material storage and display. The dynamic butterfly roof captures rainwater that is filtered in an adjacent native plant filtration garden. Construction was completed in March 2016.

Paradise Creek Nature Park is a constructed wetland park built by the The Elizabeth River Project for the City of Portsmouth. Originally a wetland where Paradise Creek meets the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, the site was used as a dredging spoils dump for over 100 years. Surrounded by industrial sites and bordered to its west by the Craddock neighborhood, the park is a model of how naturalized ecology can be re-inserted into and coexist with industrial landscape. The park is used by the public for recreation, and as an open classroom by ERP for school field trips. Children are encouraged to get their hands muddy and learn about the creatures that populate the wetland that is in their own backyard.

Initially studied in a University of Virginia architecture studio, C+PA redesigned the project and completed the working drawings necessary to build the pavilion. Materials are used sparingly to make a robust yet visually delicate structure that clearly displays how it is assembled, thereby extending the educational mission of the park. Layered, wood frame scissor trusses support a wood deck and corrugated steel roof over a sloping steel frame. The roof channels rainwater to an adjacent raingarden that treats the water before it reaches the wetland.