New Castle Common Visitor Center Design Competition
This was submitted as part of the 2013 AIA New Hampshire Emerging Professional Network Design Competition for a proposed visitor center to New Castle Commons, located near Portsmouth Harbor in New Castle, NH.
The original program called for possibly reutilizing an existing foundation left over from an army barracks located on the site in the 50’s. However, after further site analysis, I argued differently.
New Castle Common has morphed its function over the years to many things, lastly of which is a place the community can collect and enjoy the New Hampshire seacoast at a pedestrian level, bicycle, or any level that promotes a family friendly atmosphere.
To propose this building should be the end all be all destination for a community that sits on an abandoned foundation from the past is a mis-conception of what the site is and what it will be. What makes The Common unique, is its ability to accommodate a variety of uses so well. From sun bathers, to barbecuing, to playground users, to a community and their annual 5k road race.
This design proposes the building compliments the site for what it is. This means not presenting a sculptural architectural marvel of modern whit, and pretending the community will flock there in its heed. Instead this means looking at existing uses of the site, asking how the site evolved and will evolve, and deriving a design that would compliment these uses.
It does this with a simplistic form, utilizing materials from the local vernacular,and by designing the form around the site. Using the correct solar orientation and analyzing other benefits the site could provide for a more sustainable design are important features considered.
By sliding the building (and gatehouse) back in towards the center, it engages the site better. The structure now emerges from the existing tree line edge, visible from a majority of the micro sites. Vehicular circulation can still be forced pass the gate house with one way circulation changes and/or no entry gates if desired, and material changes around a trash bin peninsula would narrow the road and subconsciously slow traffic down as the entrance. A bike path near the abandoned foundation will immediately usher bike traffic away from vehicles, doing this while framing their views thru the arbor and trees into the park. This site embracement continues with the detailing of the building, evident in recessed corner columns analogous to the building growing into the site from the tree line.
The plan’s circulation pattern mimics the sites as well, with the openness of the parade field and cross circulation thru it, the information gallery cuts through the middle of the building. Overhead doors would literally leave the space open year round, but still allow for securing the space at night or inclement weather if needed. This axis visually aligns with “the intersection” and ties the bicycle circulation to the pedestrians, without totally mixing them.
The gallery spaces take this notion of openness to another level, that would be more micro manageable by employees, or organizations utilizing the space, such as the Great Island 5k event. This intent was inspired by the notion users wanting to be outdoors if they are there, thus giving them the option to not be. Moveable glass panel partitions on a track could turn the main gallery space into a shelter pavilion if decided upon. Blurring the edge of whats indoor, covered shelter, and outdoor. Versatility is key, and the openable spaces can easily become extended retail space at the information gallery, or dynamic reception spaces during events, such as the Great Island Road Race in the main gallery.
The lattice arbor work found around the building has multiple functions. One is to help blur the edge of outdoor / indoor space, but it also acts as a passive design element for the summer, blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the interior, or glass panels if they are shut. Winter periods will promote vegetation loss, combined with a lower sun angle inhibit passive heating. This is especially true on the south facade with the stone trombe along the bathroom corridor, simply providing a thermal mass to collect heat and distribute later during the cooler night.
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