Recharge & Recognize
The project title Recharge & Recognize is derived from the physical actions in which motorists engage in at rest areas. Rest areas allow motorists to both mentally and physically take a break from driving or recharge, and in the case of the proposed prototypes in this project, people will be able to literally recharge their electric cars. The meaning of the verb recognize, is to detect with the senses or to be fully aware or cognizant. In this case, recognize refers to the motorist’s acknowledgment of the surroundings beyond the physical facilities. I will first introduce the history preceding today’s rest areas followed by the theoretical framework and project site.
After the introduction of the Model T in 1908, the federal government started developing highways and the national interstate system crossing the United States. This rise of the highway system and automobile during the mid-20th century spurred commercial development lining the highway. It was the age of the first major gas stations and flashy roadside diners, but it was not until 1959 that the government developed its first roadside rest area. Providing an area of respite for motorists, state governments quickly developed these sites. By 1972, approximately 1,200 rest areas had been built; today there are more than 2,500 state rest areas, but they may not all be around for much longer.
Most state rest areas built between 1960 and 1990 consisted of a toilet building and picnic shelters. States generally used the architectural design of picnic shelters to showcase their local style and culture, but this was not always as apparent in the main toilet buildings. The upper images on the screen are picnic shelters from Oregon, New Mexico, California and Texas. Below are images of toilet buildings in Michigan, Idaho, Wisconsin and Missouri.
The state of Louisiana closed 24 of its 34 rest areas last year due to budget concerns and Virginia has followed in their footsteps this year closing 19 of its 42 stations. Virginia estimates these closings will cut $9 million of annual spending in order to bounce back from its $2.6 billion dollar budget shortfall. Other states such as Vermont, Wisconsin, Maine, Colorado, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Arizona have either closed facilities or are proposing to do so. Recently North and South Carolina have cut staffing from their facilities between one and two days a week.
All of these closings have stirred up quite a controversy from a wide array of people. One article on this issue entitled “Rest Areas, R.I.P.” by Emily Badger on Good Magazine online has received 499 responses so far, an overwhelming majority in favor of preserving the concept of rest areas.
While rest areas are on the bottom of the list of priorities for some states, they are top priority for others. Currently, Texas and Iowa have two of the most aggressive programs for redevelopment in the country. Texas uses Transportation Enhancement Funding, which allots 10% of the transport budget to surface transportation projects such as safety rest areas, bike trails, landscaping, scenic beautification and historic preservation.
Each Texas rest area is context sensitive incorporating the surrounding culture, history and geology. Sustainable design is incorporated into each building and systems such as wind turbines and rainwater cisterns are at some of their new facilities. Washington state is developing electric car recharging stations to bring its rest areas into the future. I plan to incorporate many of these same aspects into the prototype designs in this project.
The theoretical framework for this project contains three main subcategories: sense of place, vernacular architecture, and cultural geography. The history of roads and rest areas is also influential to the project. This diagram visually shows this framework and highlights the main theorists work involved in my research.
Sustainability is a major priority and concept in this project but is not in the diagram because it is an overarching value. The building will aim to be self-sufficient in a number of ways. Wind and solar energies will be examined to supply power. Sustainable materials and practices will be proposed to reduce the roadside environmental footprint. Water conserving fixtures and low-flow toilets will be located in the public restrooms. Electric car recharging stations will also be proposed for the site.
Sense of Place
“The sense of place is an experience created by the setting combined with what a person brings to it.” Fritz Steele explains that each individual’s background influences his or her thought process and experience in a place. This translates to mean that each traveler will encounter a varied sense of place in the same physical location. Research also shows that a greater short-term recognition comes from previous understanding and seeking information. Each of the prototypes will have digital displays highlighting the culture and history of the region. The possibility of large digital maps as well as interactive touch-screen displays will be explored to bring information to motorists in a new way. Travelers depend on the character of a place to create their experience. Christian Norberg-Schulz describes that it is important to orient oneself, but also to identify with the environment. The information available and architecture of the buildings will act together to help motorists identify while passing through.
Vernacular architecture, the second theoretical subject, is inspired by the landscape, built using local materials, respects the environment, and is not influenced by fashion. This study helps to tell the human story because throughout history, vernacular buildings have been built to directly satisfy the needs of the time. Studying the history of vernacular buildings in the three regions of North Carolina proposed for this project will give greater understanding to the lifestyles of the counties.
Henry Glassie explains that architects and designers are directly influenced by their surroundings and education merely adds another layer of knowledge to the existing. As a designer, it is apparent that each of us designs to our own capabilities influenced by our backgrounds. This is important to vernacular architecture in that regional architecture is influenced by the users’ needs as well as particular architects. The notion of boundaries is also important to stabilize social relationships and define the land.
Denis Cosgrove explains that landscapes are symbolic and each produces cultural norms and dominant values for groups in society. If society is informed by the landscape then buildings should be able to help inform society about the landscape as well. Both the natural and man-made landscape defines the appropriate behavior of the site. The combination of the man-made and natural landscapes in this project will aim to encourage curiosity of the surroundings. A quote from Karl Raitz states “The trick [for tourists] is to learn about the everyday landscapes that ‘common folk’ create…” He explains that while traveling, one must be willing to read more than the roadside historical markers and look to the landscapes created by the local people. These three subjects sense of place, vernacular architecture and cultural geography form the theoretical framework for the project.
The three yellow dots on this map denote the three site locations for the rest area prototypes in this project. I will be developing three schematic designs in the first half of the semester based on three varying North Carolina landscapes. At the time of mid-term critiques, I will determine which site to continue developing for the final design.
The sites are located near Fayetteville in Cumberland County, in the Appalachian Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Buncombe County and on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal in Camden County. Each design will aspire to create a sense of place for travelers to briefly experience the culture and history of their immediate surroundings. These landscapes are each beautiful in themselves and vastly different. As you can see, the current rest area facilities do not reflect these differences and the prototypes will aim to achieve this diversity.
This site in Cumberland County is located at milepost 48 on I-95, 1-mile southeast of Fayetteville in the piedmont region of North Carolina. The facility was opened in 1981 and is 2720 heated sq ft. In 2009 a major renovation was done to add new restrooms to the facility.
Great Dismal Swamp Canal
Unique because it serves both motorists and boaters, this rest area and visitors center is in the southbound lane of US-17 one mile south of the Virginia line in Camden County. It is built on the banks of the Great Dismal Swamp Canal, and is open five days a week from 9-5. The facility opened in 1989 with major renovations in 1994 and 1996. This location will be unique catering to both canal and roadway traffic.
Blue Ridge Parkway
At milepost 10, 12 miles south of Asheville on I-26 near the Asheville Airport, this rest area is located in Henderson-Buncombe Counties. This is currently a 1,932 sq ft building opened in 1967 with renovations in 1998. The building is open 24 hours a day and staffed 18 hours per day. The location on the parkway in the Appalachian Mountains will give inspiration to this design.
Pause along the way
Embracing nature and site
Reveals the culture
This haiku embodies the spirit of this project and will guide the design process.