The group backing New London as the site of a national Coast Guard Museum has unveiled its architectural concept for the building. The glass-fronted structure will be raised 13 feet in the air on the bank of the Thames River, to be resilient to the biggest of storms.
"Designing a building that is at once up in the air, and also open and engaging is probably one of our greatest challenges," said architect Charles Klee, of Payette Associates.
He said the riverfront location was also challenging because it’s right next to New London’s iconic train station. That building was designed by noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson in the 1880s.
"A building of great historic significance, not just to New London, but this is actually a national landmark building," he said. "Having a building that's in dialogue with something like that is a huge challenge, a tremendous opportunity for any architect."
The museum's most commanding aspect, its four floors of glass fronted gallery space, face the river. Viewed from Water Street on the other side of the train station, the building is designed to recede into the background.
The National Coast Guard Museum Association estimates this will be a $100 million project. It's received commitments of $20 million from the state, to build a covered walkway leading from Parade Plaza to the waterfront site.
The project also received a boost in recent months when the state's congressional delegation ensured that the museum could be built partially using federal funds. The federal government has given a loose commitment of $30 million to the project, although the association admits that number might be revisited with the new administration in January.
The association has so far raised $9 million in private funds, but Dick Grahn, the association's president, said these architectural renderings will be a milestone in that effort.
"Having an image that you can present to donors of an actual building on this extraordinary site in New London really captivates the interest," he said.
Payette Associates said the plans could change substantially by the time any construction is underway, as it seeks input from the community.
The Coast Guard is the only service which has no national museum dedicated to its history.