Public reaction shows change in design of Mystic boathouse needed
The architects of a proposed Mystic boathouse may have seen the patterns of oars in the building design they devised, but most residents who viewed that design only saw red. After a rather contemporary design for the boathouse planned for a Route 27 parcel just north of Mystic Seaport was unveiled early in October, more than 200 residents angry about the building’s proposed appearance posted their frustrations on Facebook’s Stonington Community Forum.
Many called the design ugly, said it appeared too contemporary for an historic village and questioned the vast difference between it and a sketch produced two years ago when the concepts of the park and boathouse were being sold to the public.
Those working on the park and boathouse, which will be both a community rowing facility and the future home of the Stonington High School crew team, say they are open to possibly modifying the design. It is wise they are flexible. This almost futuristic design is a step too far in a village that draws visitors and residents mostly because of its historic nature.
The public also must be flexible in this debate. The site poses numerous challenges and constraints. A truly traditional-styled boathouse would likely require much more money to build. Concessions had to be made on height restrictions in the area and the design cannot usurp land that now is envisioned as public park and green space.
When plans to buy the 1.5-acre parcel came before Stonington voters two years ago, they resoundingly approved the $2.2 million in bonding needed for the parcel. The park will allow public access to the Mystic River and provide both a community rowing center and a dedicated site for the crew team, a sport that is wildly popular at the high school.
Since the vote, a private group that supports the 90-member team has been raising money for the $2.5 million boathouse. When architects from the Boston firm of Anmahian Winton unveiled the boxy design featuring a weathered metal facade, they explained the building paid homage to the historic Rossie Velvet mill that stands nearby on the east side of Route 27. Meanwhile, the metal facade would be embellished with a design based on computer modeling of the elaborate stroke patterns of rowers. In addition, the metal facade would be somewhat transparent, creating a changing pattern of light and color as a viewer moved past the building.
In essence, while the boathouse would emulate the height and color of the mill, it would be its contemporary cousin in terms of design.
Architects further explained that because of site constraints, height limitations and the fact that the building needed to accommodate rowing shells, it could not have a pitched roof, as was shown in an earlier sketch. It is worth noting that all the projects showcased on Anmahian Winton’s website feature sleek, contemporary, futuristic designs, so the more contemporary boathouse appearance should not have come as a surprise.
While most who attended the design unveiling reacted positively once they heard the architects’ explanations, a building shouldn’t require explanations to entice the public to embrace it. Still, to their credit, both the architects and the group working on the boathouse overcame many challenges in devising this design. These range from budget and flood zone building requirements that prevented part of the building from being underground, to the desire to have as much of the parcel’s footprint as possible given over to public park use. Indeed, most architectural firms interviewed for the job told the committee a traditional-styled boathouse could be designed only if it were located smack in the middle of the parcel, thus overtaking much of the land now eyed for the park.
No design will win unanimous approval from residents and visitors, but this stretch of Route 27 is a gateway to both an historic area and the state’s prime tourist attraction. The group raising money desires to have the public enthusiastically support this project.
Given these factors, and considering many in the village are still unhappy about the bold orange Mystic Seaport signs and the contemporary-styled newer Seaport exhibition hall, we think the boathouse should be more of a crowd pleaser than the current design allows.
A second public meeting to discuss the design is scheduled at Stonington High School on Dec. 1. This provides a chance to hear and react to residents’ complaints and concerns. Ideally, a middle ground can be found that provides a boathouse that conforms to the constraints of the location, yet more seamlessly blends with the historic nature that is Mystic’s essence.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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