Two years ago we asked the question: popping a room on top of a theatre: why? Now we know the answer: because it is a glorious conceit that brings joy to the hearts of all who see it. And even more to those who stay in it.
There's a lottery to choose who gets to sleep on board (each visit is for two people and for one night only) and this TreeHugger won the chance to experience life on this little jewel. Buffeted by the wind and rain, and then a moonlit calm, it was an unforgettable experience.
The boat-shaped room was the winner of an architectural competition to design and build a room on top of a theatre complex during the year of the 2012 Olympics. It was such a hit that it has been kept on (literally) for another year.
Designed by DavidKohn Architects, the inspiration came from Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness,’ and the boat, the 'Roi des Belges', that Conrad himself captained on the Congo.
You enter through a secret doorway, up a sloooooow recycled elevator from another old building and along a walkway. And then you are on a windblown rooftop, feeling elated at the views and the height and the solitude. Atop the boat is a wind turbine which is both monumental and practical. The three mini wind turbines provide about three-quarters of the power the place needs to run.
The interiors are made of wood, stained a pinkish-red. They give a feeling of solidity and comfort: not too overdone or kitsch yet intimate. The rather large and bright room is split between a kitchen/dining room and a bedroom/sitting room. There is a collapsible stairway leading up to the top level.
The galley kitchen is compact: a long counter with a small fridge and kettle and toaster. Not too much emphasis on food since only teabags and milk are provided. It's DIY or out for dinner.
Here's the shower, with porthole, and opposite it is the toilet and sink. Just as in a real boat where space is scarce, everything is shipshape and compact. Some of the many windows open from the bottom. There are also wooden louvred windows for summer cross breezes.
The bedroom/sitting room is cozy and bright, with windows all around. It is separated from the kitchen by a clever wall which slides back and forth. The bed is big and comfy and offers the greatest view ever: endless vistas of the river and the buildings beyond.
One could spend the whole visit just there: watching the boats, the birds, the rain, and the clouds. There are lovely books about olde and new London and the Thames spread around the cabin, but with so many things to see, there was little time or desire to read.
Climb up the steep metal stairs and you are on the upper deck. There is an obligatory set of binoculars, a chair and desk for pondering the horizon. Lift up the desk and you can reach the deck which overlooks the river.
Here you are captain of all that you see: St. Paul's Cathedral to the right and the Palace of Westminster and the London Eye to the left. In summer it would be a wonderful place to sit; in February it's a quick nip out and then a fast run for cover and warmth.
Artists staying on the boat have made podcasts of their inspirations drawn from the boat. Mere mortals are invited to record their experiences on board in a massive logbook; and many do. There were lovely drawings, poems, and descriptions of the changing weather and clouds.
The whole experience is completely eccentric, yet endearing.
The River Thames is such an important part of London's history and the staying on the boat makes you feel part of this old and maritime continuum. There is a sense of wildness and isolation in the height and positioning of the boat. Living Architecture in collaboration with Fiona Banner and Artangel are to be congratulated on this spectacular collaboration between architecture and the arts.