Wakeboarding Retreat

Lake Powell, UT / 1998
Wakeboarding Resort. Sustainable, temporary structures. Includes viewing platform, pro shop, visitors center, and sleeping units. "If we had water here… this country would not be what it is. It would be like Ohio, wet and humid and hydrological, all covered with cabbage farms and golf courses. Instead of this lovely barren desert we would have only another blooming garden state, like New Jersey." Edward Abbey "Architecture does not so much intrude on a landscape as it serves to explain it." Steven Holl On April 11, 1956, the Department of the Interior of the United States Government authorized construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. The result was the flooding of Glen Canyon creating the 161,000 acre Lake Powell, complete with 1,960 miles of shoreline. Ironically, for more than thirty years, Lake Powell has existed in the dry, harsh environment of the desert. More than two million people annually visit this human made oasis in the southern Utah desert. The existence of water, with it’s therapeutic civilities and the wilderness’ austere bareness, demonstrate a phenomenological dialectic. The harsh environment of the desert has beckoned those seeking solitude and mental wellness for many generations. Similarly, the soothing waters in the desert have provided an escape from the punishing heat and exposure of this fierce environment. These two conditions have continually created exhilarating experiences. Today, the massive reservoir provides a place where one can seek solitude and be exhilarated by the water and the desert in tandem. The metal sustenance provided by the desert is of prime importance. This mental therapy acquired from the water and the desert offers not only a physical, but also a psychological irony in this most natural of environments. Similarly, ironies exist with architecture and could be used to explain an unnatural relationship with nature. This project will investigate the relationships between water and desert, architecture and water, and architecture in the desert. The conditions of desert, water, and architecture are dissimilar and unique. Architecture, or the built environment, could prove to explain the relationship between a body of water and the desert in a number of ways. First, architecture could link the unnatural reservoir with the harsh desert by involving the human activities that currently exists on the reservoir and in the surrounding desert. Second, architecture could inform or teach the history of the reservoir and the flooded canyon below and serve as reminder of the need for seclusion and withdrawal. Finally, architecture could provide a physical retreat from the noise and commotion of vacationing crowds. The vast majority of visitors who go to the aquatic sanctuary of Lake Powell do so to "get away from it all" without really "getting away" from anything. Due to the large number of lounging tourists and screaming watercraft, "getting away" is a very relative term, as a true psychological retreat is never realized. With such commotion and disruptive behavior it becomes difficult for one to enjoy water activities requiring calmness and seclusion and finding solitude is often laborious. However, due to the size of this massive artificial body of water, one is able to find seclusion by journeying to remote areas of the reservoir. The Dangling Rope Marina, located 35 miles north of Wahweap Marina, is removed from major tourist areas and is beginning to explain the relationship between reservoir and desert, human and environment. This small marina, which is only accessible by boat, offers boat fuel, limited food supplies, and a park ranger station with limited first-aid facilities. Because it is entirely water-locked, this remote marina is dependent upon the reservoir as a route to obtain supplies and the desert sun as a means to get power. An array of 384 solar collecting photovolatic panels are arranged on the nearby shore which, with the aide of a backup propane generator, provide power to the entire marina. This is the largest solar energy system in the National Park Service and the second largest photovolatic-hybrid system in the United States. This unique utilization of the built environment begins to explain a way that the unnatural reservoir relates to the dry desert. The sport of wakeboarding is as unique as the Dangling Rope marina and could further explain the relationship the between water and desert. This serene sport is dialectic in itself because of the noise generated by the necessary propulsion. Unlike its forebears of surfing and snowboarding, this sport requires artificial propulsion. A loud powerboat must be used to be pull one across the water, similar to water-skiing. Needless to say, wakeboarders desires smooth, calm, water. This often requires venturing off to distant locales or remote areas to find a situation where there is no other watercraft. Wakeboarding seeks retreat from other water activities, especially insensitive vacationers. The experience of wakeboarding is enhanced by the unnatural component of the powerboat engine. As one sits in the boat, with the engine off, the water perfectly calm and the sun disappearing behind the horizon, the tranquility of the sport becomes evident. Wakeboarding is dialectic because seclusion and smooth water are dramatically contrasted with the loud engines. The acceleration one gets from wakeboarding is also contrasted dramatically with the utter calmness that comes from simply being on the water without the boat running. The psychological and physical contribution to one's mind and body defines the ritual of wakeboarding. The entire experience of wakeboarding is similar to the ritual of solitude in both experiential and ideological qualities. The mental comfort that comes from this ritual is the reason many people participate in the sport. It is the intention of this project to create an architectural incident between the natural environment and the unnatural medium of the reservoir. This project will interpret the relationship of the dualistic landscape while providing mental wellness to its visitors. This incident will be a retreat for those seeking seclusion from the noise and commotion of the crowds on Lake Powell while providing a functional shelter for those who enjoy the dialectic of wakeboarding. This project is envisioned as a series of architectural incidents along the edge of the reservoir. This would allow for separation of conflicting activities. Water activities like canoeing and kayaking are important to promote and facilitate because of the privacy and contemplation they encourage. Furthermore, this incident will serve as psychological retreat involving both the desert and the water. The site for this event is near the secluded Dangling Rope Marina on Lake Powell. This site embodies features of both the desert and the reservoir that make the experiences of each appealing and rewarding. Seclusion, privacy, and the combination of water and desert are inherent to this site. Today, with the presence of the reservoir, a sandstone peninsula extends into the reservoir, creating two bays in this spectacular canyon. This project intends to incorporate the typography of the site as a way to simultaneously create a retreat that utilizes the qualities of both water and desert. Incorporation of a land element that extends into the desert wilderness is a route to get visitors into this important environment so they can individually find the comfort that the desert provides. Incorporating a series of water elements is intended to utilize the segregation of activities while providing seclusion. Separating activities will not only facilitate wakeboarding, but it will remove quiet activities from the noise of wakeboarding. This will also allow any visitor the opportunity to engage in personal activities such as canoeing or kayaking to explore the environment to find psychological comfort. The unique typography of this site offers a number of design possibilities including freeing one bay for non-motorized water travel. Architecture's relationship to the water and the desert will ultimately explain the dialectics being explored by this project. Another important consideration of this site is the possible future draining of the reservoir. The design of this project will incorporate a future plan to exist without the reservoir. The connection with the desert, and the possible ruins will be investigated as a way to continually explain these issues to future generations. Physically, this architectural incident will serve as a connection to the desert and as a retreat from the commotion on the reservoir. Intellectually, this incident will encompass aspects of the journey to the desert and the ritualistic aspects of solitude. These aspects directly relate to the search for mental wellness, the sport of wakeboarding and to the reservoir in the desert. It is important to note that the attitude of this project will be one similar to Edward Abbey’s love of the wilderness and not the attitude of Mr. and Mrs. Suburban Tourist’s love of their houseboat timeshare. This project is important because of a fondness and appreciation of the desert and what it affords humans. As a result of investigating the relationships between architecture, water, and desert, and incorporating the concept of a psychological retreat, the resulting architecture will facilitate a sanctuary for water activity. Functionally, this facility will provide shelter from the harsh desert environment while simultaneously allowing its visitors the opportunity to find psychological wellness from the same environment. This is key to allowing visitors the opportunity to find their own psychological significance from this environment. It is important to illustrate the qualities of acceleration and calmness as provided by the sport of wakeboarding. The site for this project enhances both the water and desert aspects of the land and will illustrate the acceleration and calmness of this environment. The two bays of water in the canyon near the Dangling Rope Marina are not only relatively secluded from other popular spots of the reservoir, but they are also south facing bays that are small enough to reduce the effects of wind. These types of spaces are ideal for wakeboarding because they are small bodies of water that minimize waves, yet large enough to be used for wakeboarding. The function of this project will also include areas where motorized boats are not allowed. Natural calmness and seclusion will also illustrate the dialectic nature of wakeboarding. This is important for wakeboarders as well as others who would like to visit and find psychological comfort but do not wakeboard. Architecture's relationship to the water and the desert will ultimately explain the dialectics being explored by this project as a means to achieve psychological comfort. The purpose of this project will be to provide mental wellness and shelter for people who recreate on Lake Powell. This would entail two conditions. First, the experience and ritual of solitude as it relates to the desert and to the water sports such as wakeboarding. Second, the psychological solace that comes from the built environment’s ability to dually provide shelter from and exposure to the desert environment. The actual program of this facility will include sleeping areas, eating areas, common gathering spaces, social gathering spaces, and isolation areas. These areas will be located along the edge of reservoir as a series of architectural occurrences. The specific wakeboarding spaces would include a training facility with classrooms, a supply and repair facility, a competition area, administrative spaces, and a plan for boat parking. The spaces specific to wakeboarding will be located together near the Dangling Rope marina. Valentiner Crane Architects in Salt Lake City have completed a master plan for the uplake concessioners, and designed many other facilities on and around the reservoir. The effort to allow this project some degree of realism, Brent Tippets of Valentiner Crane Architects has been and will be consulted during development of this project. In programming this facility, it will be important to consult organizations such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the World Wakeboarding Association, and the psychological medical field as a means to create a facility that more completely servers the needs of it’s users. Architectural precedents that will be studied for this project will be the work of architects such as Will Bruder, Antoine Predock, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West studio. Australian architect Glenn Murcutt will be studied as a way to provide climatic sensibilities in hot, dry climates. Steven Holl’s Sokolov Retreat for St. Tropez, France will be analyzed as a precedent for an architectural retreat from a vacation facility. Natural gardens, sculpture, and other meditative spaces will be studied and possibly utilized as a means to accessing the psychological realm of visitors. Architecture is an important element to this project because of it’s ability to provide function and shelter. The utilization of architecture, or the built environment, is important in this tripartite idea not only because of its symbolic, iconographic, and place-making abilities, but also because of its ritual creating qualities, features commonly synonymous with water and desert. The relationship between the dialectics of wakeboarding and the dialectic of the reservoir in the desert is the conceptual foundation for the architecture of this project.