Double Trouble Interpretive Center

Layered Places

Sean A. Gallagher

Double Trouble Interpretive Center
Pinelands National Reserve, N.J.

Double Trouble State Park's unique characteristics and accessible location has sparked an interest by the Division of Parks and Forestry to recommend the development of a visitor interpretive (orientation) center. This interpretive center shall introduce the park's complex, intertwined stories through approaches which use a variety of educational media. The center will allow visitors to explore the complicated stories from various angles and levels of appreciation, while encouraging year round interpretive programs responsive to seasonal visitation patterns. The center will provide information and exhibits that enable a visitor to explore the natural and cultural history of the pinelands and Coastal Heritage Trail, as well as introduce the visitor to the various recreational opportunities available at Double Trouble State Park. -NJ DEP Parks and Forestry


The purpose of Double Trouble State Park is to preserve, protect, and interpret the natural and cultural resources within its geographic boundaries. The park is part of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, an organization of parks that make information available concerning the ecosystems of the New Jersey shore and their significance to the local environment. Double Trouble Village is a historic company settlement that exemplifies many of the characteristics of New Jersey pinelands economic and cultural environment. The village settlement has various preserved artifacts that can be used to educate visitors of the once thriving timber and cranberry industry. The Park also provides outdoor recreation for visitors with various activities, such as canoeing, that does not have long term impacts upon the preserved natural resources. Since Double Trouble State Park is close to major transportation routes and has access to the Pinelands National Reserve and New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route Trail, it has the potential to serve as both an entrance to the Pinelands and Regional Welcome Center for the Coastal Heritage Trail. The Park's unique characteristics and accessible location has sparked an interest by the Division of Parks and Forestry to develop a visitor interpretive (orientation) center. This interpretive center will provide information and exhibits that enable a visitor to explore the natural and cultural history of the pinelands and Coastal Heritage Trail, as well as introduce the visitor to the various recreational opportunities available at Double Trouble State Park.


The intent of this project is to mold spaces that offer heightened experiences of the existing environment into a composition which engages the site. It is an investigation into developing spaces that tackle the limits of time and place by recognizing contextual issues that have effected the environment over time and expressing their importance. The project will attempt to create 'of the land' by unfolding time's hidden secrets of place in order to create experiences that offer new interpretation of the surrounding environment. It is believed that by connecting the visitor to the site and its multiple places, one will be able to develop a better understanding of our evolving existence and its relationship to the environment. If the composition recognizes the contextual issues of the surrounding environment and responds by expressing its significant characteristics, the overall project will contribute to the evolution of the site and enhance one's awareness of layered places.

To design with this intention of expressively responding to the contextual issues of a site in order to develop an understanding of place -- or at least provoke an awareness of place -- it is important to understand how, why, and where place exists. Place is the result of human interactions in space. Alan Gussow has stated that "the catalysis that converts any physical location - any environment if you will - into a place, is the process of experiencing it deeply. A place is a piece of the whole environment that has been claimed by feelings."1 This is to say that when a human is in space, the space is understood through the experience of reacting to some of its many components. The human attaches feelings to spaces, making them places. However, the experiences that created the place are linked to components of the space that have changed -- influenced by the irreversible flow of time. The previous understanding of that changed space becomes a place within the mind; it is recalled through the feelings attached to the experiences. Place is the result of applying the memory to reflect upon space; it is "the combined effect of physical setting, human experience, and culturally based meanings."2 Thus, place is an understood space; it is the fusion of an individual's emotions and the physical setting within a space.

The world in which these various environments mold place is constantly changing with the consistent flow of time. Time is a process -- a process that forever renews the face of this earth. If we understand space as allowing this movement of time, then place is a pause; an understood piece of space analyzed within a time and transformed into place. Marcus Aurelius has asked the question, if "flux and change are for ever renewing the fabric of the universe...in such a running river, where there is no firm foothold, what is there for man to value among all the many things that are racing past him?"3 The answer to this question lies within place. The place is a found security, something from which to establish values. The world is full of places, found in the minds of those who have experienced environments, singularly and collectively.

Every new experience changes an individuals understanding of their relationships to space because it is weighed against the values of past experiences. A persons ability to store information gained through experience within time allows for the development of cultural meanings. Culture is the perceptual filter which allows one to understand past experiences. A culture develops from shared experiences of space stored in the memory of collective individuals, then passed from generation to generation. Social activity within a group enhances one's own experiences by passing values gained from other's experiences within a place. Without a shared memory of places -- often told through stories by elders -- people have a limited understanding of their relationship to a new space; they lack a comparative value. Thus, the understanding of an environment as place is inseparable from cultural values and one's own past experiences. It is the summation of many experiences over time and the collective recognition of these experiences that defines a true place.

The communication of experiences and feelings from one individual to the next is crucial to interpreting new spaces and developing an understanding of place. It is important to understand the vehicle which passes values gained from one place through time. For this project, the emphasis will be placed on the manipulation of space within the landscape in order to create a tool for the communication of those characteristics which have created, or been part of past places. The act of making is man's primary activity in measuring space and expressing place. Making is the manipulation of physical components within a particular environment. Whether one manipulates the landscape to harvest cranberries or forms a bowl shaped object from cedar for gathering the cranberries, the activity expressed is making. It communicates those experiences and feelings gained from the recognition of that place. Objects left in the landscape anchor time, and communicate those past experiences and feelings of individuals within their place. Thus, by interpreting these objects left in the landscape, one can gain an appreciation for the values established in past places. By creating something expressive of the surrounding environment, which recognizes those left objects and important characteristics, it will direct one’s attention to that which is currently inhabited, creating place. If the project was to interpret these objects within the context of the current environment, a connection can be made between the past places and their significance to the evolution of current existence.

In order for the project to communicate the value of these past places and its significance to interpreting future experiences of the surrounding environment, it must develop from the recognition of objects and boundaries left in the landscape. It is these manifestations left in the landscape that communicate those past places that established our position in time. If the project’s enclosures can make the visitor aware of the existing objects and boundaries within the landscape, it will engage the site and find past places for new interpretations. This project will create experiences in space that offer connections to these past places, and in return contribute to the visitor's understanding of the changing environment and the evolution of it's particular site. However, the project must not attempt to create spaces in order to artificially recreate past places, yet create a new place to interpret those past conditions. Thus, it is the goal of this project to create that which encourages individuals to explore space through multiple experiences creating an understanding of past places in order to comprehend their current existence. It will establish a foundation for future experiences that spawn richer understanding of the environment they currently inhabit. Finally, the project will positively contribute to the evolution of the site, making sure not to negatively effect the surrounding context, rather rooting itself into the landscape.


The design process started with defining and illustrating the primary objectives for the built composition. The building was first sited near the designated parking area away from the flood plain. From this point the program spaces were organized relative to both the macro and micro context and circulation patterns. The initial models depict an attempt to capture panoramic views of the distant critical habitats while blurring the boundaries of enclosure by extending into the site and opening programmed areas to sheltered unconditioned spaces.

The original site for the interpretive center was not effective as a learning tool and too removed from the significant contextual issues to draw a connection. The site was moved to a pinched area down the trail towards the Historic Village at the overlapping edges of multiple interpretive environments. The building started to take the form of movements made by the changing landscape while capturing lines of travel, sight, water, sun, and breeze in plan and section. Models became the design tool focus for studying the success of the relationships and experiences of various compositions.

The final building composition engages the site physically and visually by developing forms that respond to characteristics of the existing landscape and patterns of human interaction within this environment. The sweeping walls measure the movement of the sun and stream, while directing paths of travel and sight for educational experiences. The roof forms collect rain and coastal breezes for natural cooling and irrigation, while shielding the summer sun from primary gathering areas. The large timber columns make gestures to the surrounding burnt canopy of the slender yet tall pine trees as a constant reminder of the natural evolution of this habitat.

The building structure incorporated interpretations of this region's traditional building techniques in order to passively educate and extend cultural weathering through the duration of its existence. The primary construction materials used in this structure were similar to those of past cultures. The heavy walls which directed earth and water are made from stacked slate, the seemingly delicate framing that reaches into the sky is all rough cut ceder, while the roof forms are lines with white ceder shingles. The model expresses these elements uniquely in order to reveal the construction strategy within its form.