Neal Robinson

Arch 322 is a coordinated undergraduate studio that focuses on the social and physical contexts in which we build, and how outdoor spaces can relate to and influence the design of architectural forms. The semester includes three skill building exercises and culminates with the development of design proposals for a community and/or competitive boathouse housing a variety of rowing sculls and sweeps. In the first three exercises, students develop fluency in reading topography and proposing sensitive alterations to existing conditions, strengthen their understanding of scale by collectively translating a scale image of an 8-person rowing shell into a 1:1 “blue tape” drawing, and expand their understanding of programmatic, spatial, and material opportunities by carefully analyzing case study projects. The studio includes guest visits by a local rowing coach to describe the importance that architecture plays in facilitating training regimens and team building. Prior to moving to remote learning platforms triggered by COVID-19, the studio visited a recently constructed boathouse in the region to engage with the specialized equipment and better understand the constraints driven by transporting rowing shells from the boathouse to the river and back.

The culminating project asked students to select one of two sites along the Huron River in southeast Michigan and develop a boathouse proposal that could integrate their own interests in either elevating the public education and youth awareness programs in the region or to focus more specifically on the needs of the competitive racing community.

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Student Work

Joshua Kuh – “Prospect and Refuge”

Prospect and Refuge is project about thresholds.  Using the boat house program and the rituals of arrival, engagement and return, the boat house stages a series of emergent transitions from spaces of compression and solace, to those of expansiveness and the collective.  It also attempts to make legible, spaces of stereotomic security and the more tectonic field conditions. In this respect, there is a conscious dialog in both section and plan between Prospect and Refuge.

Careful material changes and varied layers of enclosure create a progression from the security of a dense internal refuge carved into the earth to the total exposure to the elements experienced by rowers on the water.  Degrees of literal building enclosure are at play and may be shifted according to outdoor conditions. These flexible spaces allow the different programmatic elements to migrate according to the season or weather for both the public (park goers) and members of the rowing community. 

Additionally, as one enters the privacy of the boathouse, there is a material change from the ground cut made of hardworking but cool concrete, to the warmer, more acoustically quiet, wood-lined walls of the locker rooms and office spaces. The acoustic calm is intended to help “center” the rowers before they take on the reverberance of the rowing challenge itself.  Lastly, a roof, held up with a forest of thin columns, helps modulate and spread a translucent light quality across the entirety of the boat house.

Evan Hotary – “Alluvium”

Alluvium: a deposit of sand, mud, etc. formed by flowing water

Built on the banks of the Huron River, “Alluvium” both embodies and empowers the mutable relationship of exchange between the fluidity of water and the firmament of land.  Highlighting the rich microcosm of natural processes that occur at the water’s edge, the boathouse, intends to celebrate this “in between” territory. Tentative, shapeshifting and inexact, the spaces along the Huron’s low-lying wetlands are abundant and form a vibrant necessary ecosystem not typically tapped into by human structures. Rather than clear this edge, “Alluvium” tries to mediate this condition by wading into the terrain symbiotically with delicate “island” structures accentuating the river/land dialog.  The program is distributed across a series of parallel sand bars so as not to overconcentrate use patterns and allow the natural flow of the river itself. Access for local rowing teams, as well as event spaces for those wishing to further their connection with the river and its surrounding ecosystems are provided as well as a more dedicated, soft landscape of native grasses and aquatic reeds that bring inland an expanded territory for native frogs and river cranes.   

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