For the final project of the first year, students were given a program for a Writer’s Retreat to be designed on a fictional plot in the Catskills region of New York State. The process began with group research. Topography was provided; students were required to populate the plot with flora.
The Catskills region is an American bastion of old growth forest; it’s safe to assume many trees on the site would be full grown. Below are the five most common trees, along with their average full grown trunk thickness, heights, canopy widths,and approximate canopy shape. A percentage of the trees were estimated to be saplings and middle aged, reflected in plan and section by scaling full grown trees 75% and 50% respectively.
Because so many of the trees are deciduous, there is a stark contrast between the summer and winter landscapes of the site. How wind effects the site changes not only with direction, but by a reduction in coverage by the trees.
After the research phase, students were given an open ended prompt to design something architectural for the Writer’s Retreat. Exploring the shapes in the diagrammatic plan of canopies became a source of inspiration. It illustrates where clearings would be. What if the pattern of solid versus void in the canopies were translated and made more tangible? Instead of any sort of building, a device to guide the guests through the retreat while enhancing a creative state of mind could be vastly more significant than a room or dinning hall.
Laying a grid over an outline of the diagrammatic canopies binds the shapes into workable units. Using two differently scaled grids creates both intricate and bold blocks.
To increase visual interest the fence system will be be comprised of the above modular units. Each block can be inverted between solid and void; rotation reduces repetition. 16 blocks will provide sufficient differentiation.
Further exploration into the hilly terrain rendered an abstraction of the map. Below, each tag indicates the distance over which a grade change of five feet occurs. Slopes of 1:20 or less are ignored. The finished product color codes the various slopes and indicates paths of least resistance.
In order to grasp where the paths will be, a site plan is required, to derive a site plan, an affinities diagram was created. The units should be within reach of each other and be placed sited with equality in mind. They should also be centrally located. The library must have access to the enclosed courtyard, as should the dining hall. The seminar space shouldn’t be far, but has little need for adjacency to anything.
Fences will line the clearings, indicated by the black arcs. Openings will be intermittent. Paths connecting the clearings will also be lines with the fences, indicated by the tan lines. The individual rooms are generously spaced around clearings to allow for maximal privacy. The washrooms are roughly in the center. Communal activities are grouped at the head of the lake to capitalize on views of the water. The enclosed courtyard could be used for eating or reading, and so serves as a bridge. To enhance the analogy of learning as a journey, the seminar space lies at the end of the longest path.
The guided pathways will foster a greater level of interaction between writers, increasing chance encounters. Those desiring solitude are able to walk outside of the paths. As light streams through the trees, the blocks will cast beautiful shadows, and create privacy. These walls give direction and serve as meaningful containers of program.