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Solution of the Month

Going With the Flow: On the Charles River, the new Community Rowing Boathouse draws from historical precedent and modern technology to maximize natural ventilation

Anmahian Winton Architects
October 2009

By David Sokol

There is much good to be said about the Community Rowing Boathouse, a pair of buildings completed last year in Brighton, Massachusetts, by Cambridge-based Anmahian Winton Architects for Community Rowing Inc. (CRI). Architectural and engineering details reveal themselves as viewers alter their distance and perspective. The facility does without a ramp interrupting the pedestrian/bike path along the Charles River. And Anmahian Winton has mitigated the scale of 30,000 square feet so that its design can radically contrast with the river's other boathouses without overpowering them. Readers can delve further into these qualities in this month's issue of GreenSource sister publication Architectural Record, in the building type study on green civic buildings.

Community Rowing  Boathouse
Photo © Peter Vanderwarker
Gill-like apertures in the walls of the Community Rowing Boathouse open to allow natural ventilation in but easily close to keep out inhospitable weather.

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What makes the Community Rowing Boathouse particularly laudable is how the poetry of the new complex enhances its sustainable profile. Consider its multipronged strategy for natural ventilation.

The larger of the two buildings is the Harry Parker Boathouse. Its ground-floor storage area contains as many as 200 eight-oar shells. Here, natural ventilation is deployed so that leftover water adhering to the boats evaporates quickly. As a result, off-the-shelf hanger doors, refashioned for consistency with the building's warm veneer cladding, terminate both ends of the space. These 40-foot-wide planes are electrified to swing up and out of sight.

The Parker Boathouse's side walls, meanwhile, are punctuated every 30 inches by narrow 18-foot-tall apertures that open and close like gills. The skin is divided into four bays to account for overhead balconies, says Anmahian Winton partner Alex Anmahian, AIA, and they function with equipment once largely used to operate the skylights of Victorian greenhouses. The facade's individual planks are hinged at top and bottom and meet at a central slipped hinge, which allows each module to elongate and open according to the turning of an axle.

"We originally thought we would open and close the main boathouse on a seasonal basis," Anmahian says of the side walls. "But the mechanism is so easy and effortless that CRI can just seal it shut in inclement weather." On a perfectly still day, he adds, strategically placed fans draw air through the building and blow it out the side. Equally important, this skin references vernacular buildings like tobacco barns, which deployed a similar natural-ventilation scheme of movable parts. And the kinetic surfaces of the building captures not only "the rhythm, rigor, and discipline of rowing, but also the changeability of it."

The second story of the Parker Boathouse is also dynamic, with seven-and-a-half-foot-tall windows that slide so that half of the window area can be fully opened. Because the space is occupied mostly by training athletes, Anmahian Winton calculated natural ventilation more precisely. Its environmental consultant conducted a series of computational fluid dynamics studies to refined window configuration as well as the sizes of complementary fans. The project team also agreed to expand the thermal comfort zone, since CRI's constituents exercise in skimpier clothing than the typical inhabitant, not to mention they prefer working out in fresh rather than conditioned air. During the few summer weeks the architects expect air-conditioning to be necessary, a geothermal system will kick in.

The adjacent Ruth W. Somerville Sculling Pavilion houses single sculls. Its skin breathes, too, but in a more stationary manner. Although a hangar door (or its yawning absence) marks one end of this smaller building, glass shingles mounted to the other elevations always remain separated by a half-inch gap. "They're constructed more like louvers," Anmahian says. "They overlap but don't touch, and air passes through them both horizontally and vertically." More air flows through the building as the temperature rises, so the Somerville Pavilion does not include electric-powered fans to coach the convection currents.

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