Kristina Rakestraw
Kristina Rakestraw

Come to the Boat | a memorial to a town's past

Interactive design for a cultural center

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Come to the Boat | a memorial to a town's past


Bachelors of Architecture Thesis at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo

2013 (9 months)   

Ethnographic Research

3D modeling
Physical Prototyping
Hand drawing

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This was a research and design project focused on everyday rituals, human engagement, and unearthing a town’s past. My goal was to create honest and responsive architecture. My design of a boat building community aimed to create tactile experiences with people and their environment. It is an exploration of how architecture can reconnect people with history and activity. It celebrates the raw experiences one might have with a wooden boat. When architecture becomes lived in, when space is engaged in, when architectural program becomes activity, when exploration is allowed – a place can be remembered and recreated. A cultural center is not about providing space for objects and documents but rather a place that provides a new understanding of a place. Regardless of a person’s role on the site, they immediately become part of its story – seen, exposed, discovered.






Somewhere along the central California coast, you arrive at a place known as Cayucos, the Chumash word for “kayak” or “canoe.” Buried along the central coast, here you find a new story. This is a story about a place, a people, and a vision.

 Cayucos, CA

Cayucos, CA

 Borradori Garage, Cayucos, CA

Borradori Garage, Cayucos, CA

At the edge of town is an abandoned garage. Inside is a room filled with mementos from the past - photos and documents revealing a culture of street life, boat building and celebration of the ocean.  


I soon found myself knee-deep in stories – all of which came to narrate this project.

I met the son of the man who built the garage and learned about the way he made things. Within the garage, was a room filled with boxes of stories and photographs about everything that ever took place in the town. I found myself knee-deep in stories – all of which came to narrate this project. I discovered that the site and community had a rich history of wood boat building, and this project eventually became focused around a boat building community center.




Establishing a Lens


The existing building is essential a ruin, removed from its original purpose as a car and metal shop - completely abandoned. In order to discover form, through an anthropological lens, I began to unearth cultural events and discover meaningful connections between site and surrounding environment and used drawing as a translational tool.




I spent several days at the site observing. I took photos on site and later created models as a method for reflection.




I used the movement of boats on the site to establish the sequence of architectural spaces. Here, boats are assembled, stored, exhibited, and set into the water while visitors either participate or pass through. Regardless of a person’s role on the site, they immediately become part the narrative.


Responding to natural pulls on site


The existing directional pulls on site includes Morro Rock, a 581-foot volcanic plug located south of Cayucos is considered “a cathedral in and of itself.” I began to acknowledge early on about my responsibility in the placement of the architecture I was to design.

Site Drawing

Design through a process of subtraction


In order to create the form, I created the initial folly structures, incased them as solid concrete forms, and began to digitally and physically carve through the masses. This process was inspired by how many canoes used to be made. A solid tree trunk would be burned through to create the form and openings. What suggested the openings in the masses were the views and visual connections within the site.




As a concept of follies. The initial concept of a series of follies scattered along the site was to provide opportunities for people to engage with the site, whereby each folly could hold a different activity. The procession from one space to another allows a time interval to occur, exposing views and connections to the surrounding environment.


The full view of the site best exemplifies the playfulness of the spaces to each other. Their relationships to the ground and the physical and visual connections help suggest the potential movement and experience through the site.


The construction of the physical model used various boards as well as basswood. I wanted to explore how something precise and laser cut could avoid losing the quality of being made by hand. Therefore, it was in the way I constructed it and altered the pieces that attempted to bring out a certain quality. The burnt wood was inspired by the a process of making canoes as well as a tradition for weather proofing.


The Experience


How might one experience the events that take place within the architecture?   


Enter through the renovated garage

The existing building becomes a gallery for boats built on site as well as an exhibit in and of itself. At the south end of the existing is a connection to the beach below. When a boat is ready to enter the water it is sent on a track and returned back to the south end of building. From there, its life on the water begins.


Walk overhead and observing activity in the boat workshop

The boat workshop is a place of hands on activity. Buried in the ground, the undulating roof allows light to abstract the space and connect to the surroundings. A path runs north of the boat workshop along the horizontal line on site; whereby visitors can catch a glimpse of the methods of boat construction.


Continue along a suspended walkway

The elevated walkway allows the public to physically enter a private space at an elevated level. Pedestrians can see below into a classroom space.


Pause in a garden space.

The Garden Space is one of meditation and silence. Buried beneath all of the other program spaces, it is intended to be a physical encounter with the ground, the earth. With views only to the sky, it becomes a framing device. There is connection to the footsteps above, however buried beneath trees it becomes difficult to invade the quiet.


Paying a tribute.  

The memorial is where boats are cast in the walls and burned out with the purpose of creating permanence and a suggestive absence simultaneously. Local members of the Chumash tribe inspired this meeting space. Their ways have been neglected and criticized allowing me to create this meeting space for them to signify their presence and encourage visitors to recognize their presence along the coast – upon entering their space.




Even though this project was crafted over five years ago while I was studying Architecture, I recognize patterns that are still part of how I think today. I am most passionate about working on design projects, whereby decisions are derived from contextual research and discovery, and by way of sheer curiosity.

This project did not follow a traditional human-centered design approach because, at the time, I was not aware of all the research methods I could have considered that are now part of my design process.  


Some future considerations would be to bring more locals into the design process as well as members of the Chumash tribe.