Alpine Socialhouse

My final semester at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture involved an in-depth, make-use-of-everything-I've-learned-in-the-last-five-years design project. The brief called for a hiker's hut in the North Eastern region of Iceland, something like a hostel in the middle of nowhere if you will. The result is below and what follows is my story.

August 2015
ARCH 393: Studio








I’ve always been very introverted, very shy. But I’ve also always had a love for travelling, for camping, for hiking. Often, these two things are at odds with each other. To travel is to be social, it means meeting people – something I’ve never been very adept at doing. So when I take part in these activities, I have to adapt, I break out of my shell, and I meet new people, and I make instant friends, and I have a beer with them, and I begin to enjoy myself. When I’ve backpacked across parts of British Columbia or travelled alone across the Scottish Highlands or rented a car and driven across mainland Europe, it’s the spaces – designed, makeshift, or otherwise – that allow this kind of thing to happen. Not just for me, but for everyone I come across. It’s the warming huts, the communal tents, the hostel bars, the dormitory rooms, the hot spring caves that create the friendly, friend-making environment.

In a place like Iceland, I can only imagine – from stories and blog posts that I’ve read – what this sort of space can mean, again, whether it’s designed, temporary, makeshift, whatever it is. For some, it’s the only socializing they’ll take part in for days. An escape from themselves on the last stop (or first stop) they’ll make before trekking hundreds of miles to the next village. For others, it’s an escape from the sweaty, cramped bus with what used to be twenty-five strangers, to come and make new friends in a warm, inviting, and friendly environment. But for everybody – and for me – it’s the chance to relax, get comfortable, and enjoy the company of new friends, freely and without any sort of rules or expectations.

That’s the kind of space that I want to create. A social house. Not only an escape from the elements but an escape from my shy, timid self.

Now, for the building itself. I was interested in this particular part of the site as my building location as it was sort of the transition space between the hill and the massive expanse of flat; between whatever semblance of civilization that exists here and the wild of the canyon overlooking it.

As for the design: the base shape, the sort of curve facing south, more or less wraps around the sun angles to maximize the solar exposure. The shape changed many times as I distributed the program, but the idea stayed the same. Putting a rift through the mass allowed me to mimic both the idea of tectonic plates forming the very country it stands on, as well as the canyon that forms part of the site at Dreki.

This design also allowed for the separation of public spaces, like the great room, dining room, lounge, kitchen, and greenhouse, and private and more intimate spaces – the accommodation and the spa, lifting one above the other in section.

Remember my whole spiel about a social space? That is what lead me to the floorplan design. I wanted the ground floor to be very open, combining the kitchen, great room, dining room, and lounge into one space to promote socialness. The pool is a very central space both in plan and in section, uniting the three blocks of program, those being the public areas below, the accommodation, and the spa.

The lower, public block is sunk into the hill behind it, pushing administration spaces and the intimacy of the library back, while the areas that need light to the front. Entry is at either end, protected underneath the canopies provided from above, as well as off the trail on the upper level.