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Down on the Bayou

The Architect's Newspaper: Southeast edition - November 16, 2023

In Louisiana, the Port Wonder Children’s Museum & Nature Center by CambridgeSeven will introduce students to wild life restoration

The Port Wonder Children’s Museum & Nature Center by CambridgeSeven abuts Lake Charles

CambridgeSeven—the historic Massachusetts office cofounded in 1962 by Ivan Chermayeff, Peter Chermayeff, and five other modernist luminaries—released images this month showing their newest project in the City of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The Port Wonder Children’s Museum & Nature Center is a 32,000-square-foot hub by CambridgeSeven overlooking Louisiana’s scenic Lake Charles. At the new $20 million building, 23,600 square feet will be dedicated to a new children’s museum and 8,400 square feet will be used for a new sustainability-focused science center. The building will have access to a fishing pier that connects visitors with the water.

The architects designed the roofline to mimic the waterways leading to Lake Charles. The design’s distinct two curved “crests” house the children’s museum and science center, respectively, and share a lobby courtyard. “We wanted something that was iconic and eye-catching,” said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter.

Street view

The building is programmed to introduce young students to STEM-based learning that teaches them about nature and wild life restoration with an immersive, “live-animal,” hands-on approach. Exhibitions in its galleries will center issues related to marshes, choral reef barriers, et al. A “touch tank” will introduce children to native species from the Gulf. The Port Wonder Children’s Museum & Nature Center’s exterior will have play areas and walking trails that connect to an existing alligator habitat.

Entry

“This is an exciting opportunity for Lake Charles to provide a public science center and educational complex to not only enhance the use of its outdoor spaces,” Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards said, “but to also encourage a better understanding of fisheries and restoration programs.”

Lobby

The Port Wonder Children’s Museum & Nature Center is sited on City of Lake Charles–owned property. The project is part of a broader re-imagination of Lake Charles’s waterfront led by the mayoral administration to transform it into a family destination infused with iconic entertainment and educational facilities. The children’s museum by CambridgeSeven coincides with planning for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Science Center and Educational Complex (SCEC), another wild life-oriented educational facility.

Renderings of the museum show its swooping roofline and a facade faced with glazing overlaid with a grid of mullions. Inside the curved roofline continues with the use of timber structural supports. The large windows overlook views of the Lake Charles waterfront. Organic-shaped displays filled with water and aquatic creatures will be conceived for interactivity, allowing guests of all ages to see the animals and other wildlife up close.

Previously, CambridgeSeven has designed award-winning spaces for children. The office designed the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, and the Roundhouse Aquarium in Manhattan Beach, California. In their home base, CambridgeSeven designed the award-winning Boston Children’s Museum. Getting Around Town, a new exhibition at Boston Public Library’s Copley Square branch, sheds light on CambridgeSeven’s design work with the MBTA, on display until April 27, 2024.

A grand opening for the Port Wonder Children’s Museum & Nature Center is set for summer 2024.