Taking an alternative approach to sense of place for a new port bridging Ontario, Canada, and New York state, New York–based Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects drew inspiration from the highways in and out of LPOEs. At the 57-acre, 84,000-square-foot, LEED Silver–certified Massena LPOE, completed in December 2009, yellow swaths of paint guide circulation through processing areas, and three translucent new structures: a 37,200-square-foot main administrative building; a 7,900-square-foot port facilities building housing infrastructural operations, management offices and equipment storage; and a 6,700-square-foot nonintrusive inspection building.

The design team removed a preexisting traffic circle on the American side that was constructed in the 1950s; the circle forced drivers to burn unnecessary fuel, involved a large amount of asphalt, and disrupted the site’s natural ecosystem. The team then re-sloped the site to mitigate the existing wetlands. In all, the project remediated 4.7 acres of low-quality wetlands and added an additional 9.4 acres of mitigated and constructed stormwater wetlands with drought-resistant plantings. Removing the circle also reduced the amount of asphalt, and partner Laurie Hawkinson, AIA, and senior associate Sean A. Gallagher say that reduction in paving, combined with tight project phasing and other small initiatives, contributed to $1 million in cost savings. In all, the project came in $4 million under budget and finished three months ahead of schedule.

"These ports require a lot of asphalt. We tried to minimize the impact on the ground while still making the traffic flow work," Hawkinson says. "It’s a delicate balance."

The new structures and roads were integrated into the traffic circle’s footprint to keep the amount of developed land low, and a preexisting east-to-west high-voltage power line was moved to the north to give the team more flexibility in circulation and building orientation.

The designers sought to instill a sense of openness while respecting CBP’s security concerns and budget limitations. Rather than employing full ballistic glazing on three all-glass structures, which would have been costly, they opted for a combination of ballistic glazing, architectural concrete, steel plate, and a polycarbonate skin that wraps the buildings to create shadow-box structures. During the day, the skin adds thermal protection against wind and filters daylight to interior areas without compromising views out or officers’ privacy; at night it transforms the structures into glowing beacons. "We wanted to get as much light into the facilities as possible. While they’d prefer to not have windows, we argued that we could reduce their operational costs by bringing in light. We had to prove the polycarbonate material was safe and could be used to lighten up the structures so they perform like a bunker but don’t look like one," Gallagher says.

Another strategy turns two canopies that cover two inspection plazas into active lighting elements. Together, the plaza booths and canopies total 24,500 square feet. CBP requirements mandate a lighting level of 110 footcandles underneath the canopies, but instead of lighting them in a more conventional manner, the designers cantilevered them from a center column. The undersides are purposefully uncluttered so that they can serve as reflective lighting surfaces. "It’s a very even, high-quality light," Hawkinson says. "It’s a design innovation to solve pragmatic needs."

Also addressing energy use are passive design strategies such as double-cavity walls, material heat sinks, and high-albedo roofing. Thirty-five percent of the port’s electricity is now purchased from alternative-energy operators generating wind and hydroelectric power, and the design team has installed meters throughout the facility to monitor operations.