The National Coast Guard Museum

Respect the past, engage the present and look to the FUTURE.

The National Coast Guard Museum is a long overdue idea. The Coast Guard is the only branch of the armed services that does not have a national museum to celebrate its role in the life of our nation and to honor the men and women who serve. Since its inception in 1790, the Coast Guard has established a proud and illustrious history which deserves recognition from the public.

The Coast Guard, under the aegis of The Department of Homeland Security, has three major roles: Maritime Safety, Maritime Security, and Maritime Stewardship. These vital responsibilities are carried out by 42,000 highly trained men and women who perform these missions with integrity, dedication and honor to duty and country. The public is generally unaware of the scale and scope of the Coast Guard’s operations. The Museum will send a clear message both through its exhibits and its iconic image: Respect the past, engage the present and look to the future.

Permanent and revolving multi-media exhibits will tell compelling stories of its past, present and future as they evoke the Coast Guard’s critical role and mission in maritime security, safety, protection of natural resources, and national defense. As a dynamic institution charged with these roles, the Museum will engage the public, veterans and present Coastguardsmen in the dreams and goals for the future. Interactive and innovative exhibits and displays will include realistic virtual environments in which the museum visitor participates in the action. The participatory nature of the activities and exhibits will encourage families and individuals to make multiple visits. The very nature of the Coast Guard’s missions lend themselves to spectacular exhibits in a dynamic architectural space: simulation of helicopter rescues in force 10 storms saving lives at sea; rescue boats tossing and swaying in tumultuous seas; a ship’s bridge on the “prow” of the building simulating a Captain’s role; the building and the sheer red atrium wall evoke the tall hull of a ship thrusting out to the water.

The adventure and the excitement of the museum experience will be both enlightening and inspirational to the public. The Museum will be a celebration of over two hundred years of service to the country, a salute to the courage and skill of the men and women of the Coast Guard, and a glimpse into an exciting and vital future.

The Site

The site, a city-owned parcel at the north end of the Waterfront Park in downtown New London, is adjacent to the new City Pier and Promenade. Across from the historic Union Station and Amtrak, it faces south to the Promenade and the wide rail crossing at State Street. As part of a national and regional and tourist destination, the site is in close proximity to rail, bus, and ferry connections as well as a public parking garage. Among the waterfront amenities are the recreational boating facilities and the deep water dock at the City Pier which can accommodate the Coast Guard’s Eagle. When in port, the Eagle, across the Promenade from the Museum, will act as a beacon visible from land and water.

As a focal attraction in this important regional and local location, the Coast Guard Museum will act as an economic boost to the waterfront and to downtown. As an icon of New London and a symbol of the Coast Guard, it will affirm the historic bond between the city and a venerable but dynamic national institution.

As part of the evolving waterfront complex of public open space, promenades, piers, docks, ferries, ships, boats, rail, recreation, and restaurants, the Museum will be a valuable asset that makes full use of existing infrastructure while attracting visitors and tourists. From up and down the Thames River waterway, the Groton shore line, and the Interstate 95 bridge, it will become a distinct landmark in the cityscape.

Museum Design Concept

The 21st century Museum is more than an archival repository. The contemporary public requires that the ‘new museum’ be a civic place; a symbol of its institutional purpose; and an exciting interactive environment for learning and enjoyment. The design concept of the National Coast Guard Museum is predicated on promoting these goals through its dynamic architecture and its compelling exhibits.

The museum building itself will be environmentally responsive; it will use advanced mechanical and structural systems; new materials and construction techniques; and incorporate energy conservation measures as visible building elements, thus evoking the Coast Guard’s forward looking outlook and its role as steward of the natural environment.

The Museum’s iconic presence and relationship to site, water, and sky will recall the Coast Guard’s maritime imagery The sweeping curve of the glass south façade and interior gallery spaces, hovering between shore and water, recalls a ship’s hull and prow: The powerful atrium ‘chasm’ between the north and south wings, awash with light on the solid north wall, directs the view out to the Thames River and maritime traffic. The atrium space also contains the primary circulation elements of stairs and bridges that connect the exhibits and direct views upward to the exhibition galleries and the sky. The top floor ‘deck’ terrace and Event space command views to the horizon like those of a ship at sea. The flexible gallery spaces, with varied shapes, sizes and lighting conditions, are designed to accommodate an exciting sequence of memorable exhibits by the renowned firm Gallagher and Associates.

The building is built on a plinth above the storm tide levels. The approach is via a gentle ramp that provides continuity of circulation between the City Pier Promenade to the south and the ferry terminals to the north. Amphitheater-like steps rise up to the plinth on the south side, providing informal seating for outdoor activities taking place in the Promenade. The south façade gives onto this public space and presents a striking image as the sweeping curved glass façade projects over the water, taking full advantage of the spectacular views to the east and, past the Eagle, towards the Sound.

The two wings of the building are connected by the multi story glass-roofed atrium. The north wing, conceived as a mostly solid mass, contains program elements, including a large proportion of exhibition space, that require controlled lighting and sensitive climatic conditions. The south wing, open and airy with a high performance glass façade, has exhibition spaces that benefit from natural light and the panorama of land, water, and maritime activity.

First Floor

The entry lobby space is approached along a gentle ramp from the waterfront promenade or from a pedestrian overpass across the railroad tracks. This ramp is also used by emergency vehicles. Upon entering, a multi story naturally lit atrium opens up a vista to the water and across to the Groton shore while drawing the visitor forward and upward to the exhibition galleries on the floors above. It is flanked on the left (north) side by a sheer “Coast Guard red” wall, and on the right (south) side by the visitors’ circulation core, an open flight of stairs, and the introductory exhibit area protected by an exterior colonnade. A transparent space housing the gift shop and café is to the right of the entry, overlooking the Promenade. To the left is the building’s main service core. Most of the north wing on the ground floor is taken up by the workshop, service and receiving area with truck access from the north. Also on this side, there is an extension of the introductory exhibit facing the Esplanade and the water.

Second Floor

Ascending the atrium stairs to the second floor reveals the expansive exhibition space suffused with natural light filtered by the double glass wall. Across the bridges over the atrium to the north wing, the lecture space and restrooms are to be found. Also located in the north wing are the museum staff offices and a special exhibits area next to the elevators as well as rest rooms and a special exhibit area.

Third Floor

The third floor is taken up almost entirely by exhibition space, amounting to over 13,000 square feet or about half the museum’s total area dedicated to exhibits. Exhibits requiring controlled lighting and special environmental conditions are located in the north wing. On the south side, the double glass façade encloses gallery space with sweeping views across the Thames River, the City Pier, Waterfront Park, and down-river towards Long Island Sound. Visitors can move freely between the two sides, experiencing the specially designed exhibit sequence in a dramatic architectural space that responds to the waterfront environment.

Fourth Floor and Roof Deck

Like the deck of a ship, the top floor is dominated by an open terrace with a commanding 180 degree views to the northeast, east, south and southwest. A large multi-purpose event space with a catering kitchen opens to the terrace across the glass roofed atrium. Receptions and special events for up to three hundred people can be held in this adaptable space. The roof terrace can hold hundreds more for outdoor events and exhibitions. On the top floor and roof, solar power generating equipment and other advanced sustainable systems will be further reminders of the Coast Guard’s concern for the environment.

The Pedestrian Overpass

The pedestrian overpass provides a safe handicapped accessible connection between the Ferry Terminal and Museum on the waterfront and the public parking garage located to the west across the railroad tracks.  It will be fully enclosed and have three access points: 1) adjacent to Union Station; 2) on the platform of the north-bound passenger track; and 3) between the Museum and the Ferry Terminal. The present rail crossing situation is less than satisfactory. When a train is in the station it is impossible to reach the other side of the tracks. Even when there is no train in the station, the route to the north-bound passenger platform (and to the water front) is circuitous.

The overpass will be enclosed and protected from the weather. The three access points will each have stairs and an elevator. The overpass will be ADA compliant and, in addition to serving the Museum, the Ferry Terminal, the waterfront Promenade, the recreational boating docks and the City Pier, it will provide AMTRAK with safe access to trains travelling in both directions.

The Cross Sound Ferry Terminal

The terminal building will be built as a discrete but integral part of the waterfront complex. It is intended to provide a waiting and ticketing area and to facilitate the rapid boarding of passengers using the high-speed catamarans. The facility can accommodate approximately 500 passengers and have a direct connection to the pedestrian overpass across the railroad tracks as well as the Coast Guard Museum and the Promenade to the south. The upper level will allow entry from the pedestrian overpass and accommodate office space; it will also provide a green outdoor terrace from which waiting passengers can enjoy a spectacular view and observe the river traffic. The lower level provides a large waiting area that can be opened up during the summer and enclosed in the winter. There will be ticketing counters, restrooms and other facilities. The terminal building is an elegant addition to the waterfront and enhances the ability of the Cross Sound Ferry Services and Block Island Ferry Services to transport passengers to and from New London in safety and comfort.

Design Strategy

While the three components of the complex are structurally independent and can be built as separate projects, there is a correspondence in the architectural design of the Coast Guard Museum, the Ferry Terminal, and the Pedestrian Overpass. The interests of all concerned with the improvement and development of the waterfront can be met through a coordinated design strategy that fulfills the functional, operational, and aesthetic potential of this   important node of city. As an urban grouping, the complex establishes connections and relationships among the various active facilities in the area and incorporates them into a cohesive public space.