River Boat Living

All this discussion of tent structures and light living has reminded me of a fun studio project from graduate school. Our task was to design a flexible structure mounted on a rail road car, truck bed or pontoon boat frame that could be closed up and moved from place to place or open up into a venue for “spectacle.”  (Nicely open ended, no?)

The collage above was my jumping off point.  Inspired by my recent stint of tent living in Biloxi I wanted to create a space with the visual privacy of a tent and protection from the elements of a pavilion but really open to the surrounding landscape.

We selected our own “client” and I choose to design a riverboat dwelling and performance space for Wendell Berry to set out on a lecture tour.  Since Berry is the ultimate advocate for slowing down life and taking time to appreciate the world around us, this was to be his focusing lense; the idea was that he could travel up and down the Mississippi River, or any navigable waterway for that matter, with this little train of pontoon boats, pull up at a dock and invite people to join him aboard for lecture or conversation.

The first pontoon boat was the residence and private space for Berry and several guests or interns.  The second was a gathering space with the basic utilities (small bathroom and kitchenette) and a large table meant for conversation over food.  The third a lecture space with seating oriented to a lectern and open to the view beyond. The three boats could be configured in a number of different arrangements depending on the primacy of privacy or display and the dock available at each landing point.

Several of the docking configurations

The pontoons would have privacy but be as open to nature as possible.  To that end they were lightweight structures with walls to 6 feet and clerestory openings to the slanting roofs.  Materials were simple dimensional lumber and gluelam beams with fabric and wooden screens to enclose the private spaces.

The idea was really to give just enough protection and civilization to residents and guests that they could be able to really exist in and be open to the surrounding landscape.

Berry at the lectern, backed by the opposite bank.

The evening’s audience wandering down to the dock.

Entry sequence.

The gathering space after the lecture.

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