Old Dominion Boat Club

The Idea

When the Old Dominion Boat Club decided to design and build a new clubhouse, their immediate instinct was to look back at their 110-year history for clues to what the new structure should look like. Having designed and built two previous clubhouses, the task fell to the current members to create a vision for the future. The new site was selected along the waterfront, but history showed that the original site was once just water. With no context in which to connect, the design team focused the original intent of the club as a rowing club. With wooden boats as a driver, we asked the question “What would the boat builders build?”

Putting Pens to Paper

The site for the new clubhouse was actually a building. The Beachcomber was built as a floating restaurant in the 1940s and represented the first real change on the waterfront from its industrial heritage to the new leisure economy. The existing concrete block structure on piles had one very important attribute: a cantilevered porch that once served as the main attraction for diners along the river. The design team prepared a site plan for the urban boathouse that accommodated the future waterfront promenade for the City of Alexandria as well as the club’s new boat ramp and marina to illustrate the potential of the site.  Next came exploration of the new structure. We started from the exterior by studying wood framing and wood siding details. On the interior we studied how to accommodate the program and circulate through the 4,000 square foot floor plates.

Small Scale Success

From drawings we quickly moved into massing models. We were interested in the size and scale of the new clubhouse and how it integrated into the context of historic Old Town. We modeled both the final waterfront plan as well as the existing conditions so that we could understand the impact of the structure today, tomorrow, and well into the future. Paper massing models and studies of the exterior gave way to wood models and a more finished look.

Rendered Complete

Once we understood the scale and character of the structure, we moved into computer modeling and renderings. Renderings allow us to understand smaller details of our design and permit us multiple focused viewpoints in both day and night. With these views we can more easily imagine people next to, or in an around, our building. We can also look inside the building and begin to understand the interior spaces or views from inside.

Setting Mood

One technique we use to set the tone and atmosphere of our interiors are “mood boards.” Created for each special room, we use photography, furniture, color, signage and even images of food to help our clients see what we imagine. For this project we named each floor with jargon from ships: well deck, lower deck, upper deck, and of course, the main deck. Our design sought to make the lower floors of the clubhouse feel like the lower decks of a real ship with large wood braces and repetitive structure, rustic and darker tones.  Upstairs we created a light filled space reminiscent of a luxury liner with light wood tones and nautical blue accents.

Getting it built

Once the design was approved by the club and the city, we completed our working drawings, contracted with the contractor, and went into construction. Fortunately the ODBC hired Forrester Construction who embraced the design and worked hand in hand with the owner, architect and engineers to build the structure in approximately 13 months. With bimonthly project construction meetings the team strategically made decision after decision through each of the phases, such as the foundations, the superstructure, the mechanical systems, the carpentry, the exterior siding and the interior fit out.

A Job Well Done!

Finally after almost 3 years from signing a contract to the completed building and site, the new Old Dominion Boat sits proudly on the emerging waterfront in historic Old Town. The history of the Beachcomber is secured in the building, now sheathed in stained cedar with the signature cantilevered porch now glassed-in. The ODBC has a new image of a contemporary urban boat club boasting its own history as a rowing club with the pairs of oars that greet first time viewers. And the talk in town is all positive as the City of Alexandria looks to show itself as a modern environment, respectful of its history, but not afraid of the future.