Camp Blue Bay - Girl Scout Camp

East Hampton, New York
1989
Nagel + Lesser Architects

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The project for Camp Blue Bay in East Hampton, New York for the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, to be completed in the Fall of 1993, is actually five projects in one: a new 8500 SF Activity Building, two new 2700 SF Troop Houses (four were planned), renovation of the 5000 SF Anchorage Dining Hall, a new prototype Wash House for the Tent Units, and a sitework program including new and improved roads, parking, entrances and gates, and utilities infrastructure.

The Activity Building includes a large hall, the Great Room, in one wing that is a multi-use activity space for indoor sports and assemblies of the entire Camp population. This hall is supported by a kitchen, which like the three Group Rooms in the other wing, has a classroom-type educational function. The building's core area includes a coat room for 200 and toilets, and opens up in warm weather with overhead doors to give an airy summer feeling to this otherwise year-round, heated camping structure.

With its angled and folded roofs and translucent skylit entry, the Activity Building makes a claim on its site as an encampment of tents, a collective gathering of outdoor-related activities at the crest of the open Sports Field. An outdoor stage frames the West end of the Great Room. The entry steps to the canopied main terrace form seating for outside gatherings at the head of the Sports Field. And the Group Rooms turn their shaded outdoor work spaces to the East. Drawing from other seminal Modernist works, this building tries to include in its inflected form and the geometry of its plan the pressures of its site, and thereby physically and spiritually anchor itself on the site as both the functional and symbolic locus of a new Camp Center.

As the Activity Building is therefore a first step in initiating a new core area for the Camp, the Troop Houses are the first step towards making a more useable, year-round winterized facility. Housing a maximum of twenty-four Girl Scouts and six adult leaders each, the Troop Houses are thematically modeled on the outdoor Tent Units, since they are to provide the same functions and a similar experience, yet within camping space heated for all seasons.

Each Troop House bunk area has translucent panel walls and a shaped roof to make it tent like. With the Bunkrooms abutting a Common Room and outside deck that together make the focal space for the Kitchen and Bath facilities, each Troop House is organized in much the same way a Tent Unit gathers a cooking shelter and a wash house around a common cleared space at the center of a tent cluster. As each component of the Troop House is given architectural expression as its own little building - shed, tent or lean-to shelter - the theme of encampments in Camp Blue Bay's new structures, albeit expressed in contemporary pavilions, is continued into the Troop Houses.

One new Wash House, a prototype for future replacements of the existing Tent Unit facilities which provides new, more maintainable service systems, also inserts the new architectural themes into the Tent Units. A shed-roofed spiral diagram, it is another self-sufficient architectural type that itself draws on other seminal Modernist pavilions. Skylit with a translucent panel roof and open and of natural wood materials similar to the tent platforms, it is therefore intended to be both new and part of the existing fabric of the Tent Unit encampment.

The existing Anchorage Dining Hall is enclosed with new glazing, roofed entries;, stair and ramp access and screened kitchen court to revive its role as a central Camp building and extend its utility through three seasons. By organizing the decks and surrounding terrace of the Anchorage to give it the feeling of an Ark-like superstructure, the nautical metaphor for the Anchorage inherent in its name and its inherited place as the central refuge in the camp (from the elements) is underscored. And by skylighting it as well with the translucent panel material, the old central hall is given its own permanent reference to the light canvas structures that are encamped around it.

The organization of the Activity Building, Troop Houses and Wash House, and the reorganization of the Anchorage Dining Hall are intended to give meaning to the functional and ceremonial roles these facilities play in the Girl Scout programs. Underlying our design of each structure, in the selection of forms, materials and site relationships for both the new and renewed buildings, is therefore the assumption that to be given this meaning each structure should have a distinctive diagram and concept, yet all should share in themes fundamental to the Camp.

But beyond the encampment theme, and the themes of tent and hearth, of color and material, that thread through our project, the site concept is most fundamental. Governing all decisions about the structures, the site concept permits two centers or Camp cores to be' clearly identified while over the years a transition occurs from one to the other and a new entry becomes recognized as the main approach to the Camp. The Ring Road at the Activity Building core area is intended to be an armature for future growth, while the new Visitor's Entry to shift the existing entry gradually to a staff and service role.

Placed in a complementary manner at each end of the main Camp path we call the Parade Road, the Activity Building and the Anchorage are reinforced as the dual ceremonial centers for all Camp activities. Along this main route, the Troop Houses are a new transitional encampment, half in the linear clearing for the road and half in the woods. Thus the combined role of the Troop Houses as sheltered campsites for seasoned Troops in the Winter, as well as for intermediate camping facilities for the younger children first learning Girl Scouting in the outdoors, and as the initial residential buildings halfway between the old and new Camp cores and providing a new much-wanted change in the possibilities offered by this Camp, is made evident.

And the existing Anchorage Building core, with the road now swung wide around it, is meant now to be more suited to its transitional role as both Dining Hall and inclement weather shelter for weekend campers. In the end, it will anchor the way to the beach swimming area, while for now it will retain its familiar role as a gateway to a much-loved Camp, while the new buildings, necessarily less familiar, with time will take on their own place in the ceremony and tradition of the place.