A better boathouse for Community Rowing

Open boathouse
© Jane Messinger

Anmahian Winton Architects design a prefab wood-clad rowing club on the Charles River.

In many ways, rowing is an expensive, elitist, anachronistic and almost silly sport; it has a short season, the boats are delicate and costly, and they need to be protected. At Toronto’s Hanlan Boat Club where I used to row a single scull, our boats were stored in falling-down rusty Quonset huts, alongside the the big eights from two elite boys' and girls' private schools.

singles storage© Peter Vanderwarker/ A room of one's own: Single scull storage
This is why I was so excited to see the Community Rowing Inc. boathouse on the Charles River in Boston. The Charles is like the Ganges for rowers, almost holy water. But most of the rowing facilities are owned by the universities. Designed by Cambridge’s own Anmahian Winton Architects, CRI is certainly not elitist;

Community Rowing, Inc. (CRI) is a non-profit, volunteer-driven club and is the only public-access rowing club on the Charles River. Dedicated to bringing the discipline of rowing to all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum, it provides instruction and equipment to rowers of all skill levels and also offers innovative programs for people with physical disabilities and for girls in the Boston Public School System. The club operates and houses more than 50% of all the rowing programs on the Charles River.

bikes© Jane Messinger

So why rowing? Years ago, while visiting a major engineering company in Waterloo, Ontario, I noticed that the lobby walls were covered in photos of rowing teams. I asked the owner why and he said, “When I hire, I always look at rowers first. They have incredible self-discipline and work fabulously together in teams.”

early morning rowing© Jane Messinger

That’s what happens when you have to get up at 4:30 every morning and get to the dock or the other seven in your boat will be waiting. When every movement has to be coordinated. When you have to listen to and obey every command from the little screaming coxie in the stern.

exterior with balconies© Jane Messinger

After 20 years of operating seasonally out of an open air ice hockey rink, CRI now occupies a new 30,000 sf boathouse housing more than 170 boats and program support spaces. The project is composed of 14,000 sf of naturally conditioned boat storage space with boat repair shop and 16,000 sf of training rooms, locker rooms, a classroom, administrative spaces, and a community meeting room.

Erg room© Jane Messinger

Rowers spend more than half the year training on ergs, or rowing machines. Having a decent and comfortable training facility is critical and this one looks fabulous.

dock with geese© Pygmalion Karatzas Photography

This is a big club. But it has lots of docks and a big staging area for rigging boats. I laughed when I saw this photo with the Canada geese, carefully posed in that moment between when they scrubbed the ton of goose crap off the docks and when the geese cover it again.

A central goal for CRI is that its new boathouse conserve energy and natural resources, reduce operating costs, support functionality of river access, and enhance service and comfort for its rowers.

exterior cladding© Jane Messinger

The natural ventilation system is actually very clever and believe me, after having baked in a Quonset, really important.

A kinetic building envelope system made of large scale aluminum frames and high density composite panels with natural wood veneer is operated by off-the-shelf chain pulls, and accommodates varying natural ventilation requirements. This prefabricated system was delivered to the site as pre-assembled components, facilitating efficient fabrication and expediting installation on a compressed construction schedule. These operable vents eliminate the need for mechanical cooling and ventilation of the 300-foot long boat storage bays.

out on water© Peter Vanderwarker

Rowing is a fabulous sport. It’s really low impact, gets you really fit, and studies have shown that of all major aerobic sports, rowers show the least deterioration and least decline in VO2max with age. But the rowing community needs organizations like Community Rowing Inc. to make it accessible to all, and who wouldn’t want to get up at 4:30 to hang out in a boathouse like Anmahian Winton have designed?

A better boathouse for Community Rowing
Anmahian Winton Architects design a prefab wood-clad rowing club on the Charles River.

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