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2021 Rotch Finalist: William Smith

William Smith

William is a designer from Oregon. He received his master in architecture degree with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and his bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Oregon. In his ongoing work, William experiments with the ways Architecture can take on expanded agencies with environmental and cultural issues in physical form. He has been a guest critic at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cornell University, Madrid IE School of Architecture, Wentworth Institute of Technology, University of Miami, California College of the Arts, and University of Oregon.

Smith Prelim 1

Exterior view of the school walls, looking through to its child-run interior.

All text and images courtesy William Smith

Classrooms Outside Expectation

In 1943, Carl T. Sørensen built the first Adventure Playground in Emdrup, Denmark. The idea was simple, but radical: provide an uncontrolled space for children to do whatever they want. Sørensen understood the difference between urban and rural childhood was not just that the rural had more greenery, but also greater access to unfettered exploration, world-building and self-empowerment. As a remedy, the Adventure Playground was a space “in which children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality” in their city.

If Sørensen aimed to provide children self determination of play, this proposal provides children the self determination of education through play: a Boston-wide Adventure School. Rather than children following a teacher’s prescribed curriculum, here the teacher’s knowledge supports the child's adventure. Education becomes another tool for realizing the imagination of one's environment: “How many wood planks do we need, and how do we put them?” the children might ask. “Well let’s try counting, and weigh some gravity!” the teacher might offer.

Around the children’s activity the infrastructure of the Adventure School acts as a quiet backdrop. The Wall provides the children's domain. The occasional flap, nook and bulge in plan offering attention to the landscape or the beginnings of a new project. The Tower is then a threshold between the child-led interior, and the adult-led exterior. Opening up only when the parents have left, the wall and tower hold a secret. To the outside: a respectable school for the adults. To the interior: a wild landscape of the imagination.

Final Competition Entry

The Fountain

A proposal considering the physical effects of our digital world.

Above the Boston Seaport, data servers are elevated as a civic monolith. Over the entrance to a decommissioned dry dock, the monolith pulls water from the harbor to cool itself and drains into the historic void.

Smith Final 1

View from Boston Harbor towards the data monolith, perched on props over the entrance to Dry Dock 4.

But inhabiting the void is another structure: an exhibition hall making sense of the site’s historic and contemporary conditions. Resting just above the highest water line, the hall bears witness to an odd phenomena of the site:
a digital tidewater.

The dry dock fills and empties at unnatural rates, following the cycles of unseen data servers cooled within the monolith. It’s output water provides a heated amenity year round. Runoff then slowly fills the outdoor garden galleries within the dry dock, hiding historic artifacts and exposing them when drained. Excess water circulates across the site to newly possible salt water marshes.

Smith Final 2

Aerial view of the exhibition hall, data monolith, tidal galleries and gardens.

Smith Final 3

View from within the garden galleries (the old dry dock), looking towards the exhibition hall while at middle tide.

Among the plant life, odd objects can be found: large props for structures that might have once existed, or maybe haven’t yet arrived? Some are inhabitable and some are not. Similar props support the exhibition hall and monolith. Perhaps to lift above rising sea levels. Or, in acknowledgment that like the dry dock they rest on, their purpose may someday end.