Ming Boathouse and Community Center

2019 Newhouse- Advanced Architecture: Dragon Boat Racing Facility


The challenge is to design a boathouse that stores dragon boats and rowing equipment. The design should activate public engagement in Ping Tom Park and consider connecting the east and west parts of the park, which is separated by railroad tracks.

Collect Info

To prepare for this competition project, I visited the site Ping Tom Park, visited other boathouses, and did online research about boathouses in general and dragon boating racing. From my visit to Ping Tom Park in Chinatown and talking to a representative of the Chinese community around the park, I learned some of the things that the Chinese community wanted to see in the dragon boathouse, something that doesn't directly look like traditional Chinese architecture and looked more "ultramodern" with a focus on community. This request was also demonstrated in the design of the current boathouse in Ping Tom Park. The overall design is modern, but the design of the garage screen is modeled after the geometric designs of traditional Chinese windows. During my visit to the park, I noticed that the ground was very uneven and hilly, so when I returned to the studio, I did an in-depth study of the park's general topography. I researched how many the dragon boathouse would need to hold and the dimensions of each dragon boat. From my research, I found that for the past two years, the annual dragon boat racing event had 32 participating teams, with each dragon boat being about 40 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2 ft deep.

In addition to research focused on this particular site, I also did research on and visited other boathouses. I did online research of Rowing Center Bled on Lake Bled in Slovenia, which is mainly a space for spectator seating during rowing races. Near Chinatown, there is another boathouse called the Eleanor Boathouse in Park 571 designed by Jeanne Gang. This boathouse has two buildings, one mainly for the Park District and the community, and the other for boat storage, hosting several rowing organizations and teams. The design emulates the motion of rowing, using two truss shapes to create the rhythm of the roof form.

Brainstorm Ideas

My goals are to design a boathouse that can house up to 32 dragon boats with extra space to store paddles and other rowing gear. Another goal is to provide a community space for the Chinese community in the area by including open studio space and classrooms and other community programs. I took inspiration from the Eleanor Boathouse in Park 571, where the community area and the boat storage are separated into two different buildings. From my knowledge of traditional Chinese architecture and Chinese values, I know that community is very important and the courtyard is the symbol of the high value of community. The courtyard can also serve as the entrance to a traditional Chinese home. Using this knowledge, I played around with different ways of communicating a courtyard, from leaving an open space with programs surround this center space, to a skylight in the center of the building, to U-shaped designs for a partial courtyard.

In my relative's housing community, there is a small walkway on the side of the park, that would normally be invisible. However, there is an eye-catching canopy over this walkway. I gathered inspiration from this design and incorporated this into the element that connects the west and east sides of the park.

Develop Solutions

My original idea separated the boat storage and the community center. However, my final plan those ideas separated the two parts by floor, instead of by building, which was my idea in at the start. I wanted to include the community center, in addition to the boat storage dictated by the problem, because this is one of the things that the representative for the Chinese community emphasized. A community center means that there will be programs and events going on and people will be there and engaged for a while, so offices and restrooms are naturally included in the program.

I settled on the smoothed-out U-shape with the open end facing the river. However, for easy access to the "courtyard," I decided to cut a piece out of the bottom of the U, creating two buildings. I did not want my boathouse to occupy too much parkland or be too tall relative to the other structures in the area. I developed a process of storing the boats to decreases to amount of surface land. The boats would be stored on a machine resembling an elongated Ferris wheel that would be stretched from the ceiling to one floor below grade. There would be two of these machines in the boat storage with each one holding 16 boats. My design attracts people to walk along the winding paths and the covered, which eventually leads them to the field house on the east side of the park or to my boathouse on the west side.

There are many types of building exterior materials and colors; I decided on concrete painted white because that material and color best communicate the styles of "ultramodern" architecture, that is in China.

Final Design

There are two main ways a visitor can come to the dragon boat facility, from the south and from the fieldhouse in the west underneath the covered path. When the visitor reaches the boat facility from the south, walking along the stone path underneath the shade from the trees, they will first notice the beautiful dragon boats through the windows of the boat storage building, contrasting to the white of the building's facade. As they come nearer, they'll see that there are actually two buildings separated by a stone path down to the river and around the back of the north building. When the visitor opens the door to the community center, conversations will fill their ears. Parents will be catching up on the community news while the children play together in the open gathering space underneath the natural light streaming through the windows. Further in, the elderly community members will be in the classroom making paper designs with just paper and scissors while bragging out their grandchildren. Another group is in the studio; they've been practicing tai chi since the early morning.

For dragon boat racing teams, they'll store their dragon boats in the boat storage building. When they practice, they can change in the restrooms in the community center, then go to the boat storage building to prepare their boats to launch. When the team is ready to start practicing, they'll bring their boat down using either of the boat-storing machines and then grab their oars off the racks against the windows. Together, the team will the dragon boat will be rolled down into the river. After the tiring practice, the team only has to roll the dragon boat back up to the boat storage building through the garage doors then slide the boat into an empty space in the machine. They'll see the water from the boat flowing out of the building and down the blacktop.