Rigid + Fluid

(Student Project)

Project Description

Rigid + Fluid is a proposal at Amicalola Falls for a Center for Ecological Interpretation and Land Use History. The project prompt directly addresses the interface between architecture and ecology. This center embodies the history of the site and land ownership while illustrating the construction process from extraction to manufacturing to installation and use. Three sites were included within the program: (1) a trailhead site, where the Interpretation Center sits and connects to the Appalachian Trailhead, (2) the factory, or the manufacturing processing site, and (3) the land, where the construction materials are extracted. The program requirements include exhibition space within the Interpretation Center, direct connection to the Appalachian Trailhead, and support amenities to the exhibition center. This project was part of the annual 2018 Portman Prize Design Competition at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

When contemplating the relationship of land use and ecology in regards to Amicalola Falls and surrounding North Georgia, a pivotal moment in time exists in which the two terms begin to have a dialogue. The fervor of gold, wealth, and expansion led to the 1832 Land Lottery in which land was forcibly taken from the Cherokee Nation and a subdivided, without regard to existing natural systems, for its commoditization. It is at this juncture where the term “land use” becomes imposed on the land as it could be perceived that the previous occupants were living with it, rather than on it. The forging of a rigid 40 acre grid system upon the fluidity of natural systems has resulted in cultural and physical manifestations that have molded the way in which land is perceived and not perceived. The premise behind this proposed Center for Ecological Interpretation and Land Use History lies at this crossroads of rigid and fluid forms reflected as the scales of impact of this human imposition.

The overarching geometry of the Interpretation Center is generated by imposing the 40 acre grid at a human scale through projecting the planar grid onto the topography of the land. When these rigid and fluid forms intersect, an undulating grid is created. The subsequent reflection of the perpendicular surface normal lines from this new topographic gridded surface creates angular protrusions, allowing the form of the exhibition center to directly respond to the reflection lines reacting to the hydrology and steep slopes of the site.

Design Challenge

The design team was presented with the challenge of translating a complex history of land use into a physical manifestation that visitors to the Interpretation Center could inhabit, primarily the moment in history when the grid was imposed upon the land. When arriving at the Interpretation Center, a grid of gneiss spreads across the landscape, creating a construct for measuring change over time through the reflection of a quarter-quarter structure of the 40-acre grid of the site. The gneiss serves as an orchestrator of passage, while leading visitors to meander throughout the field of columns. Visitors experience the shift in both the changes in the land and history throughout time by progressing through a series of spaces mimicking these shifts from uninterrupted land, to the civic and human implications of the grid, and ultimately the persistence of natural systems upon this site. The entire passage of the Interpretation Center serves as an elevated threshold space on the approach to the Appalachian Trail. Hikers realize the implications of what it is to be able to hike the Appalachian Trail through the procession of the Interpretation Center. Over the course of time, the structures of the passage and the facility will decompose back into the earth, but remnants of the imposed grid will remain through different moments in time based on materiality. The field of gneiss will stand as a representation of the boundaries of once was, with the natural systems being released to decompose the rigid grid. The site as a whole remains the last imposition by humankind on nature, with the structures decomposing and the natural systems acclimating to this space to attempt a new ecology, perhaps reference what once remained before the implications of land use on this site.

Physical Context

Water pervades as the overarching author of the site, as this proposal removes the existing retaining pond at the base of Amicalola Falls post-construction to introduce a more naturally occurring path, mimicking that of the water’s original trajectory. This decision allows the hydrology of the site to greatly improve, by creating multiple channels of the water’s flow throughout the site and beneath the structure. Through meticulous material assignment and structural design, each space within the site provides a unique sensory experience while physically inserting visitors into an architectural manifestation of the timeline of ecology and land use history on this site. The three primary materials of this site are: stone, gneiss emerging from the earth with the longest lifespan; earth, a fabricated apparition of the earth itself through varying rammed earth aggregate composites; and trees, wood beams, rope, and thatch providing the framework of structural exploration. The extraction of these three primary materials occurs through an intentional designed extraction to implement habitat creation for endangered species after material removal. The extraction site is within six miles of the Interpretation Center, and thus a physical manifestation of the earth is reassembled into the structure of the Interpretation Center. Extracted in the same subdivided grid as the Interpretation Center’s site, the imposed grid on the extraction site as a geometric order for this material removal will also serve as a marker of time as the new habitats’ fluid systems transcend the rigid grid.