Fall 2020
Second Year Architecture Studio | Professor: Jonathan Kline and Bea Spolidoro
The C & O Canal Company began construction on the C & O Canal in 1828, with dreams to connect the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River. The beginning of the canal construction coincided with the construction of the first American railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio (B & O Railroad). Due to the rise of the railroad causing financial troubles for the C& O Canal Company, the original plan to extend the canal beyond Pittsburgh was never realized. The canal was abandoned for transportation by 1924 but today the 185 mile route is a National Historical Park and used as a bike path and nature walk that connects Pittsburgh and Washington DC. Our site is located at Lock 52 of the canal which sits on the northern bank of the Potomac River in Hancock, Maryland and still has topographic traces of the canal basin across the site.
The ruin of the C & O canal is a symbol of human technology and intervention into the landscape as well as a reminder of how human structures shape the way in which we experience and understand nature. The footprint and memory of the canal leaves a strong, linear clearing in the otherwise forested riverbank which is visually and physically separated from the Potomac River by a thin strip of trees and a steep topographic change. My visitors center intentionally avoids this clearing and canal in favor of instead encouraging visitors to experience the forest and natural environment of the area. The kinesthetic experience of the building is in dialogue with the topography of the landscape and reinforces the connection to the movement through nature.
My design of the C & O Canal Visitor’s Center creates a strong axis through the three volumetric buildings that sits perpendicular to the canal and in-line with the current canal bridge. Yet, within each volume there is an emphasis on pushing out parallel to the canal towards the forest. This notion of horizontal movement towards the trees and nature is reinforced by the wood siding. The experience of the promenade and the reorientation throughout the Visitor’s Center reconstructs the inhabitant’s connection and experience of the natural environment. The visitor is first brought down with the slope of the topography through the central circulation space. Not only is this circulation in dialogue with the existing topography but there is also transparency as one passes between volumes to emphasize the passage through the natural environment. As one enters each volume, one can make the choice to continue down the path towards the river or turn out towards the trees.