The Origins of this thesis began twenty-one years ago in Rhode Island with an overnight visit to Fort Wetherill State Park, a former military reservation on the rocky, windward coast of Conanicut Island. The fort was built at the turn of the century to defend Narragansett Bay's East Passage and the naval base at Newport against seaborne attack. Its massive concrete ramparts, built into rugged granite cliffs rising eighty feet above the ocean, possess a raw sculptural power and constitute a commanding presence over the East Passage to the bay. The indeterminate ocean is a major site presence; the dialog between fortifications and ocean is a driving theme for this project.
The thesis articulates the process of creating a meaningful architectural intervention in form and space on this site as a result of direct experience. It is organized by chapter into initial impressions of the place and the bordering oceanscape, verbal and graphic analyses of the structural logic of site elements, a description of the visual discovery process, and the development of the architectural parti as space, articulation and meaning.
In the context of the current site program as state park, the gun batteries, as ruined military artifacts, have resisted a transition to the public realm. As a more comprehensive interpretation of the site, the author proposes a non-denominational pilgrimage chapel as part of a linear path to the water that breaches the line of fortifications. The axial intersection/collision between ocean path and fortifications suggests a formal and thematic dialog between human action and boundaries. The chapel's steeple links the mythical realms of earth, water and sky; for vessels navigating Narragansett Bay, it is a geographical and transcendental signpost.
The project charts the author's assumptions, methods and architectural priorities as they were challenged and transformed by an increased understanding of the site particulars and by Vitruvian necessity in what has become an architectural odyssey.
© 2021 Philip S. Wheelock, Jr. AIA