By Sarah Pope
Executive Director, The Menokin Foundation
Away from the quiet fields of Menokin, I traveled to bustling Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 5 for a much anticipated day at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Twelve architecture graduate students in Professor Jorge Silvetti’s studio, “Ruins, Memory and the Imagination,” would be presenting their individual projects for a Conservation Research Laboratory; a Visitors Center; and Visitors Waterside Harbor at Menokin, as well as the design of all elements necessary to structure and present the Menokin site narratives to the visitor.
The students had been working on their projects for several months, following a weekend-long site visit in February to Menokin and the Northern Neck. The Menokin Foundation provided the opportunity for these students to explore contemporary architectural design solutions to tell the story of our historic site.
We’re planning for a future curated exhibit and publication that presents the Harvard students’ innovative ideas to the public. More details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, here are themes and associated designs that floated to the top for me as I watched the project presentations:
1) Designing for flexibility: one student designed very cool mobile archaeological stations or pods that can be moved around the site as we continue our investigations.
2) Finding inspiration in painting and fine arts: another student found inspiration from the lines he saw on the Menokin landscape, and his proposed Visitors Center evoked the work of artist Marco Migani.
3) The changing terrain of the site: plateau and ravine, water and woods, open and enclosed: I was particularly enamored by one student’s design of a bridge and attached Visitors Center that spans a ravine to the south of the Menokin house site.
4) Siting and perspective-relationship of new buildings to Menokin: Some students anchored their Visitors Center to the Menokin house—at certain corners of the house or on its central axis—that created a visible dialog between the historic and contemporary structures. Others tucked their new facilities away from the house site into the tree line of our expansive woods, reinforcing the flat, openness of the plateau surrounding the house site.
Above all, the interpersonal, human aspect of this studio—meeting the students, getting to know them and enjoying their unique perspectives on Menokin—was extremely fulfilling to me, as well as to our Trustees, staff, and friends who met the students in February.