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Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

On The Edge A Thesis of Tact

Ben Rambadt Thesis Proposal Fall 2011 University of Michigan – TCAUP ARCH 660 – Thesis Seminar Prof: Anca Trandafirescu


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

What is the edge of the world? An edge condition of extending towards an unknown territory or space? Reaching out like an arm touching the extent of space and time in an unfamiliar place. This place is where a journey may end or a discovery made, creating a marvel for one to encounter and behold in their lifetime. I am going to look at a place, a time, and architecture that creates an ‘edge’ condition of being the arm’s reach from the physical and ethereal space of Little Diomedes; the extreme extension of my nation.

Site Little Diomede Island in Alaska’s Bering Strait lies fifty miles south of the Artic Circles and only sixteen miles off the west coast of Alaska. The steep bluffs of island nestle right up to the frigid Bering Strait waters, making it almost impossible to make a landing with any boat during the constant movement of the waves. Luckily the island lays way on its western edge (facing Russia) a more shallow sloped point of the island for boats to dock at the small village of Little Diomede (Inalik). Little Diomede, the village, is home to roughly one hundred thirty-five Inupiat Inuit locals who live off annual supplies, seasonal hunts, and natural spring water year round. Little Diomede Island and the locals on the island live simple lives with a small village school, post office, general store, and a health clinic building with washeteria to regulate the use of water during the winter months. 1 Many of homes on the island, about 30, were built during the 1970’s and 1980’s with no roads but wooden stairs and walkways for travel between the homes and municipal buildings. 2 The village has a delicate economy that relies on outsider aid for annual supplies, transportation to and from the mainland for higher paying jobs, and the wildlife around the island. These villagers live on the edge of the U.S. during some of the coldest and darkest winters with a constant view of Russia’s Big Diomede Island looming across the strait and across time. 1 ALHN Alaska. http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ak/state/diomede.html.Web December 3rd, 2011 2

ALHN Alaska. http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ak/state/diomede.html.Web December 3rd, 2011


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

Across the International Dateline lays past U.S. adversary Russia (Big Diomede Island) where it is uninhabited and home to a Russian weather station. 3 Only 2.4 miles apart from each other, these two islands create the closest physical relation of the two powerhouse nations. Despite them being the closest edges of both nations to each other, they are still twenty-three hours apart in time, Russia having the twentythree hour head start and the U.S. pulling in the end of the day. 4 These two ‘edge’ conditions of both proximity and time are extremely valuable variables to be used in the discovery of architecture for this site.

Context/Circumstance Little Diomede Island and the people in the small seem to have grown immune to the condition of being so close to Russia, and many of the villagers don’t see themselves as being considered the ‘edge’ of the U.S. like many outsiders perceive the island to be most interesting for. Several blogs and comments on images of the tiny island, so near the international border and a major time line, discuss the site as being intriguing and bewilder. The bewilderment is due to the condition of an international divide happening on the edge of such an isolated island in an extreme climate, creating in some a tingling sense of discovery of the place. Periodically the island will encounter visitors or tourists to the island, people who want to the see the place for themselves 3 4

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Diomede. Web November 27, 2011 Wikipedia. Web http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Diomede. December 2, 2011


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

for either bragging rights, to see Russia from U.S. soil, the sensation of ‘looking into tomorrow,’ or being on the furthest westward piece of land in the U.S. It is because of the manmade edge condition of the international border and the International Dateline that makes this site so intriguing? The idea of being somewhere where there is an edge condition isolated and suspended away from society yet felt with a charge of significance of claiming the border of a nation. What is interesting about the island of Little Diomede and its adjacency to the international border of Russia and the International dateline is how phenomenally different it is relative to the U.S. Mexico Borders. Counter to the hard tangible border of the U.S. and Mexico, the invisible quality to the border separating Big and Little Diomede is how it still holds a significance to be recognized despite there being no tangible border condition present in the Bering Strait. It is an ‘edge’ or border condition that is understood because of the latent suspension between the two islands. There is talk of people wanting to visit the island for pure intrigue, and maybe the reason visitations from outsiders isn’t as frequent is because there is no architecture to help identify the island as a significant place of diplomacy to the western edge of the U.S. Little Diomede Island, the village on it, the visible neighboring nations, the invisible time difference, and the overall phenomenon of the location are in contention because of the islands current inability to provide an accessible means for the outsider (tourists and visitors) to view first hand the circumstances of the site. The circumstances of the site viewing west from Little Diomede Island but also the circumstances looking back, looking back at the journey made to the site and viewing inward from the ‘edge.’

Program/Stakeholders The National Park Services program in the United States operates with the intention of providing spectacles of nature to tourists and the public by means of creating points of interest that focus on a specific spectacle to behold. Every year the National Park Services host over 320,000 visitors a year all because of a phenomenon and bewilderment to be seen from established vantage points overlooking a landscape or sacred marvel. Little Diomede Island provides a vantage point looking across borders, at a history, into tomorrow, and at the ‘edge’ of it all. 5

The Inupiat Inuit local 5

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Park_Service. Web December 10, 2011


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

The Outsider (visitor) The ‘Edge’ condition between nations and international time differences The objective of this thesis will look at diplomacy through architecture and formal design on two levels: negotiating the relationship of the local and the outsider by means of separation or social integration with the locals in temporary or even glancing ways, and to provide a symbol of international negotiation to mark the ‘edge’ condition between two nations. The architecture will be built in service of the outsider and create an identity for outsiders to relate and understand its geographic and political significance. Thinking of the ‘edge’ condition that can be created in this project means building an architecture that goes up to and possibly touches the International Dateline/International Border, heightening the sense of suspensions and tension in between the two islands. The architecture will provide an experience of looking forward and looking back on a journey to the ‘edge’. The architecture will be part of the continuation of the journey upon arriving on the island. The project will promote a relationship and mediation with the existing villagers on the island, not to exploit the land or remove existing structures, but instead may provide possible economic avenues for locals to partake in and benefit from. The project could also exclude the locals, leaving them to their own daily business and not to be bothered by the outsiders visiting the designed project only. The project will only allow for temporary, daylong, visitations to the island for outsiders in hopes of reducing the impact of the outsider by eliminating the possibility for hotels, hostels, or B&Bs on the island. Instead the main inhabitable architecture will act as a cultural center educating the outsider on the significance of the site and its history of geological transformation over the millennia and a border of political conflict, it would also educate the outsider about the local Inuit tribes and their existence on the island. The architecture will accept the conditions of the extreme environment in which it is built and provide a means of protection in the case of severe weather or cold.

Precedents The list of precedents look at ways of providing a means of view, symbolic formal gestures, and with the intent of mediating the surrounding context of the site; whether it’s for cultural, nature, or economic means.


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

Aurland Lookout | Aurland, Norway | Sanders & Wilhelmsen 6 Visitor center and outlook that provides an exhilarating experience of suspension in the air over the valley below. This architecture uses its simple formal moves to create a highly identifiable and remembered experience.

Volcanic Observation Deck | Pinohuacho, Chile | Rodrigro Sheward 7 A destination point along a pathway that provides a place for sitting and reflection while viewing a phenomenal volcanic mountain range.

Clingman’s Dome Tower | Smoky Mountain NP | Bebb and Olson 8 The tower and its long slowly sloping walkway to the top extends or continues the outsiders journey from the vehicle to on foot upwards all while viewing the landscape before reaching the endpoint at the top.

6

Richardson, Phyllis. XS Extreme: Big Ideas, Small Buildings (c) 2009 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London Richardson, Phyllis. XS Extreme: Big Ideas, Small Buildings (c) 2009 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London 8 McClalland, Linda Flint. Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction (c) 1998 The Johns Hopkins University Press 7


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

Allies These allies are architects who strive to work in environments that are secluded and isolated and their designs provide formalities that deal with the human scale and the experience at the human scale within a larger context. Baird Samson Neuert | Firm Website Elemental | Firm Website | Crosses Lookout Point Ensamble Studio | Firm Website | Truffle House Snøhetta | Firm Website | Reindeer Pavilion

Foes Foes have been chosen because their lack in recognizing the impact architecture has on the human at scale humans can relate to experientially. Formal gestures work, but they can only work in my opinion if the architecture acknowledges that people occupy the space. Peter Eisenman Richard Meier Zaha Hadid

Method The method will NOT involve extensive research using maps and may in fact not require any, but will involve more research into the local economy not only on the island but in surrounding cities on the mainland Alaska nearest the Diomede Islands. The method will involve experiential points of views towards Russia and back to the U.S. – a “what would it be like” approach. The method will include research into similar intentions of architecture/visitor centers and how they fit within their context, especially a context that involves negotiating the locals with the spectacle or region being visited. The method with take on a charretes of massing models onto a developed site model including Little and Big Diomede Islands with an annotated border/date line to contend with. The method will look to design a space that acts as a diplomatic agent on the two levels of diplomacy mentioned above in Program/Stakeholders.


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

Text (by author) Decker, Julie Modern North: architecture on the frozen edge (c) 2010 Princeton Architectural Press Decker, Julie True North: New Alaskan Architecture (c) 2010 by Braun Publishing AG McClalland, Linda Flint Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction (c) 1998 The Johns Hopkins University Press Richardson, Phyllis XS Extreme: Big Ideas, Small Buildings (c) 2009 Thames & Hudson Ltd, London Slavid, Ruth Extreme Architecture: Building For Challenging Environments (c) 2009 Laurence King Publishing Ltd


Ben Rambadt – Fall 2011 ARCH 660 – Thesis Proposal

On the Edge  

A thesis proposal looking at the possibilities of site and context for the a visitor center to the edge of a nation.

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