If you can dream it, you can do it.
The story of the bathhouse at the B.B. Clarke Beach.
Essay authored by Kevin Korpela (© 2003 observatorydrive.com)
The bathhouse at the Bascom. B. Clarke Beach is part of the Oral History Project for the Third Lake Ridge Historic District on the East side of the City of Madison, Wisconsin. The audio interview was recorded at the studio of the Audio for the Arts on August 4, 2003 with one of the architects of the bathhouse, Bob Torkelson, and the following is an essay based on that interview.
The Architectural Firm. Bob Torkelson, Harold Ames, and Ted Nugent were the principals at the architectural firm of Ames, Torkelson, and Nugent Associates, Inc. (ATN) in Madison, Wisconsin. They were the architects for the bathhouse at the B. B. Clarke beach along Spaight Street located two blocks south of Williamson Street. The bathhouse was constructed in 1959 and features a unique folded-plate concrete roof.
The client for the bathhouse was the City of Madison Parks Department and ATN was in the early throws of their partnership. Ames was a great specification writer, Nugent was a very capable design architect, and Bob has the dubious reputation of being one of the few architects to have dual registration as both an architect and a structural engineer.
The three-way partnership worked on placing the best expertise of the three into the forefront of the project and they were able to achieve a lot of things in short order. In Tedís design expertise, he wanted something very dramatic, as if the roof was floating above the building. While Harold and Bob filled in with the balance of the work related to the design and structure of the bathhouse facility. While the principals worked together to come up with something attractive.
The Roof. The idea of trying to get a roof to look as if it was floating and not connected to the walls below was accomplished by a concrete folded-plate roof about 3 inches thick supported by thin steel tubes.
If you fold a piece of paper similar to the bathhouse and span it across your knees the folded paper spans your knees successfully, however, if you lay a single sheet of paper across your knees the paper falls to the floor. In folding the piece of paper youíre creating a great strength to span ratio. If it was a flat piece of concrete, the roof over the bathhouse would have had to be 10 to 12 inches thick to span the 24 feet.
It was a great challenge to come up with idea and Bob had been researching folded plates in wood, such as stress skin panels of wood, and concrete, such as barrel-vaults, prior to the bathhouse.
The research suggested that a folded-plate concrete roof could be constructed for about the same cost per square foot for as typical sidewalk which really suprised the Parks Department.
Architecture Philosophy. The architects role in the process, whether itís a big government entity or a residentail entity, is to work with the clientís idea and try to develop that dream or idea into reality. Architects have to be real problem solvers. Architects could say to the client weíll do exactly what you want, no more and no less. But you have to challenge the client to see other options and then let the options come forth, so that the architects ans client can collectively come up with a reasonable solution. The dream is going to come into reality and you have to get that into words first, then complete a bunch of sketches, and at the bathhouse we had about six sketches.
In the process of working together you have to think about the feel of materials and the picture youíre trying to draw. If you draw it, the strucutural engineer can design it structurally to stay in place, and weíve collectively done our job. Philoshopically working together and not just exclusiviely as the architect and the engineer but with the client as a team to put it together and ensure that what we are pulling together on paper answers the clients dream.
If you can dream it, you can do it. But it canít be something just in thin air. It must be structurally sound, dramatic, and do what was required of the program. Thinking beyond the box and thatís exactly why an architect comes up with options to his work. Not just one idea to meet the dream but as many as you can think of that are still within reason. So the architect, in looking at this building processs, is an important ingrediant in helping the client let his dream come true.
Without the architect the project would be just ordinary, very ordinary. To go from the ordinary to that which is going to be timeless requires the services of an architect. The greatest challenge in architecture is to design so that you can say it was not built in 1959, but will look as fresh in 2003 as in 1959. And if you look at the bathhouse itís hard to say when it was put together and thatís the timeless part of the design.
When an architect does a good job, it should be that the city got its money worth because look how pretty it is. And itís standing the test of time. Itís the fact that when the architect is through, it doesnít say that it was done by so and so. Rather, it should be that you look at the nice project and see that the client had a dream when they did it. The building reflects the fulfilment of the program presented and in so doing the building is the ownerís dream come true.
Architecture Process. The philosophy of doing a project is to think beyond the thought process, to ask leading questions of the owner, and illicit more of their real issues. In getting to these answers your beginning to think beyond the box and make the dream really blossom.
There are five phases to the traditional architecture process: determine the scope, the schematic design phase relates the scope to built form, the design development phase includes material selections and the plans and elevations are made realistic, the construction documents phase includes placing the schematic into real building details, the bidding phase solicites contractors prices, and finally the construction administration phase. The process for the bathhouse followed this traditional method.
Scope, Schematics, and Design. The Parks Department hired ATN based on qualifications and an interview. ATN didnít do the interview with a design idea in mind rather it was based on the more current process called QBS or Qualifications Based Selection. QBS is how many municipalities make selections today. You donít go to a doctor and talk about his price rates. But rather you talk about whoís the best doctor to replace your knee. This is the basis of QBS.
The architects were given the scope of the program by the Parks Department. The Parks Department knew where the site was going to be because there was a beach already at the site but without a shelter, also the population of the area from which it would draw was known. There were discussions with the Parks Department about adding a refreshment stand next to the checkin-checkout desk in the middle the building but the stand was not included in the final design.
The design approval process included three steps: the Parks Department, then to the Planning Commission, and finally to the City Council.
Construction. The bath house is divided into a left and right side. Each side contains the separate facilities for women and men; a changing room, a shower, and bathrooms. Each side is supported by two wythes, or two widths, of masonry. Brick is on the exterior and concrete masonry units are on the interior. The folded-plates span over each side and the bottom of each folded-plate is attached with a 2" by 2" steel tub, then to a steel plate, and the steel plate is attached to the top of the two wythes.
The folded-plates want to spread apart. For example, if we use the folded paper sheet of paper demostrated before, if the top of the fold is pressed down the fold spreads apart. So in the bathhouse, these forces are controlled by using vertical steel tubes connected to the bottom of each folded plate. The steel tube as mentioned earlier is connected to the masonry wall.
The interior surfaces of the all the rooms within the bathhouse include concrete masonry block because itís low maintenance and itís resistant to mold. The mold resistent properties was known even in 1959.
The architects and the client had an open meeting with all of the various contractors wanting to bid the project and the folded-plate was excepted with few objections. A couple of the contractors wanted a flat roof, however the folded-plate was the approved design by the Parks Department. The architects knew the folded-plate would work and that the deflection in the middle of the span would be within acceptable tolerences.
An interesting architectural feature of the bathhouse roof is the one-half inch reveal around the entire perimeter of the folded-plate which provides a shadow line along the edge of the plate. It also serves as a drip edge allowing water to drain from the roof and drip off the roof edge versus bleeding down along the underside of the folded-plate which would eventually end up dripping into the rooms.
The center of the folded-plate span is about 6-8 inches higher in the middle than at the ends for two reasons. It allows for time deformation of the concrete, since concrete tends to sag slightly over time. The second reason for the rise, curve, or camber in the center of the plate is to simply allow rain to roll off the roof.
The architects did a cost estimate for the project based on the square footage for wall, floor, and roof. They were very suprised when the chosen contractor proposed a cost for the folded-plate roof as the same cost as a typical street-side sidewalk. The architects were very happy because they had figured a higher price.
Neighborhood Input. The Parks Department gave the architects all of the information concerning the program and the Park Department may have had opening meetings with the neighborhood for them to express their concerns.
The Parks Department may have also had open meetings with the neighborhood because of the open meeting law which may have had been active at that time. The law provided that all public building projects include public input into the process.
The architects would meet with the Parks Department and show their sketches and theyíd have several meetings prior to the Parks Department approval and prior to the final submittal to the Planning Commission and the City Council.
But the price, the input from the neighorhood, and the final aesthetics of the building all went through the Parks Department.
Integrity. The basic premise of an architect is to do the right thing, donít try to pull the wool over anyoneís eyes, keep straight forward, and stand tall to the truth. And this should hold whether itís a three-way partnership, a two-way partnership, or a sole proprietorship. In additon, be truthful with the people your working with and donít try to pull anything over anyone, in other words integrity.
Integrity is important and the bathhouse at the B.B. Clarke Beach has integrity, it isnít hidding anything and has stood the test of time.
© Kevin Korpela, www.observatorydrive.comô