Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Chesapeake Boathouse

The Chesapeake Boathouse, designed by Oklahoma’s Rand Elliott, was recently showcased in the December Metropolis magazine. I watched the building of it from the freeway, but I had not been down to visit it onsite until today. It is of magnificent design.

The boathouse is at the end of the canal system, and the Bricktown park system reaches out to the backside of the boathouse. I walked down the formal terraces typical of the park. The terraces overlook a lagoon or backwater of the Canadian River, now the Oklahoma River. I followed the sidewalk thinking that it would lead up and around to the front of the boathouse. It ended at the point, with lawn and a steep grade between me and the entrance. I climbed up the hill and the roof of the boathouse hovered above me, as if lightly perched and anticipating flight. The edge of the roof is startling thin and the round shape intensifies the sharpness to where it vanishes along the distant edges.

As I climbed the hill, with camera shutter fluttering, I was pleasantly surprised to find the ground plane turn into water. The shaded side was dull with ice, but the entrance was alive with the reflections of the steel mast rising out of it. The boathouse seemed to be floating, in this reflection moat, and moored to its deck. It is easy to underestimate the power of a reflection pool. Simple, elegant and sophisticated. Active, alive, engaging and ever-changing.

As I backed away from the entrance on level ground the standing seam metal roofing delivered what my material’s professor promised it would—shadows. Wonderful shadows marched across the roof. I cannot say whether the shadow of the masts in opposition to the standing seam metal was intentional, but if it was it had the desired effect. An asymmetrical grid clung to the edge of the roof where the masts reached above the roofline. This is one of the best reasons I can think of to use 3d modeling and lighting tests.

Overall Oklahoma City should be proud. My only critique would be that the front of the building looks like it never left the architects desk to visit a landscape architect. The materials of the roof nod to the granary across the lagoon, and the shape of the building clearly speaks of water and a boathouse. It is clearly docked, but it is not tied to the land. That final connection between the building and the land is not made. Overall the city of Oklahoma City should be very proud of its new resident. It is a fine piece of architecture that reflects spirit, integrity and heart. It reflects soul and enthusiasm. I think it reflects Oklahoma.