Chesapeake Boathouse

The Chesapeake Boathouse is a far cry from the humble beginnings of rowing in Oklahoma City. Bob Stroud pioneered the sport of rowing on Lake Overholser in the 1970s. The North Canadian River, which bisected downtown, was not a candidate for the sport. “For years we turned our backs on the (North Canadian) river,” said Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman and CEO, Chesapeake Energy. “First we moved it out of the downtown area to keep it from flooding our young community, and then we channeled it with rocks. It was out of sight, and hopefully out of mind.”

North Canadian River, 1991. During the 1950s, the North Canadian River was redirected and straightened to prevent further flooding. Bisecting OKC geographically and socially, the river became an unsightly drainage ditch.

In 2004, a $53-million project MAPS project rejuvenated the river, creating a seven-mile, dam-controlled body of water whose name was then changed to the Oklahoma River. While the river wasn’t on the minds of many, the rowing community saw its potential and began working with business and civic leaders to establish a rowing facility on its banks.

“Twenty years ago, I laughed along with others at the idea of a String of Pearls along the river, but just look at the Oklahoma River now. It used to divide the city, and now the river unites us.”

– Aubrey McClendon –

The Chesapeake Boathouse, completed in 2006, was the first structure to grace the banks of the newly revitalized Oklahoma River in downtown Oklahoma City. Hailed by many as a landmark presence along the river, the boathouse was designed to react with the water and to reflect the spirit of rowing in Oklahoma –a rowing shell on the prairie, exquisite in its simplicity. The steel-framed building is composed of translucent polycarbonate walls and a white standing-seam metal roof. Dramatic night lighting creates the sense that the building is floating above water. Sixteen columns of light representing “competition” highlight the reflecting pool at the “bow” of the building.

“Make it light, needle thin and fast”

– Rand Elliott, FAIA –
Rand Elliott Architects

View looking west along the deck. The outdoor deck and reflecting pool were developed to expand the functional space and connect the architecture to the river.

Architecturally, the vision was to create a boathouse that embodies the spirit of the sport using inspirations from the sleek shells made of carbon fiber, fiberglass and Kevlar with the raw aluminum oar outrigger frames, the featherlight oars and the small skeg. We wanted to break away from traditional boathouse design and create a new standard that envisions the future of rowing. 

Southwest corner looking north. The boathouse connects both physically and visually to the river and becomes a landmark along the north bank.

North elevation looking southeast.

 Details of southwest corner.

The art of shell construction is marry strength with grace. Our goal was to expose and celebrate the steel frame with a taut synthetic skin and make the building glow with energy. The roof was left clean and free of penetrations representing the purity of the vessel.

“Oklahoma City is the essence of where rowing is going.  The ideas that come from there we are adopting in our own association.  Our sport is so traditional and where Oklahoma City is going is so different.  The Chesapeake Boathouse is fantastic.”  

– Glenn Merry –
Executive Director of US Rowing

Views of the main entry lobby and the multi-purpose conference/event room. We wanted to put visitors close to the water and the boats. A panoramic 24-ft wall off glass overlooks the deck, river and reflecting pool from the lobby and a 62′ long window within the conference room puts the rowing shells in storage on display.

The boathouse functions as a multi-purpose facility with a focus on training and rowing events. A state-of-the-art training facility with specialized equipment for rowing accommodates up to 36 athletes as well as men and women’s locker rooms.

Boat storage for 124 boats opens to the river and dock area with large doors that allow for convenient boat access and space for maneuvering. 

Client: Chesapeake Boathouse

Scope: R

Services: Architectural Design,

Completion: 201?

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