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Nauticus, The National Maritime Center

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1991–1994, Centerbrook Architects with Shriver and Holland Associates. 1 Waterside Dr.
  • Nauticus, The National Maritime Center

Never in Norfolk's history has a project failed on so many different levels: aesthetically, programmatically, and financially. In the early 1980s the city and the locally headquartered Cousteau Society discussed the creation of a facility that would focus on the work of renowned French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. This idea faltered, and the city proposed Nauticus, a combined “infotainment” facility focusing on local maritime themes. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum joined it, creating a programmatic hodgepodge. The $52 million project opened in June of 1994 but lackluster attendance, caused partly by steep admission prices and lack of identity, caused the city to assume full control in January 1997.

Unfortunately, the center's many woes were compounded by its adventurous but ungainly design, one of the last works by noted American architect Charles Moore. Moore, in collaboration with Mark Simon of Centerbrook Architects, attempted to create a “duck,” a building that communicates its function through its very appearance. Responding to the waterfront location and multiple nautical themes, the architects designed an enormous gray superstructure above a pier perpendicular to the riverbank. There is a faint deconstructivist quality to the building's numerous curves and angles, as if a battleship had melted under nuclear attack. On the south side a bold diagonal element corresponds to an interior moving sidewalk connecting the different levels, while on the north side an A-4 jet appears lost amid the vast gray mass to which it is affixed. The interior resembles that of a suburban shopping mall. In December 2000 the U.S. Navy berthed the battleship Wisconsin on the north side of Nauticus, and subsequently the interior exhibits were reworked according to a more focused naval theme.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Richard Guy Wilson et al.
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Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Nauticus, The National Maritime Center", [Norfolk, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VA-01-NK18.

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