What does one think of when hearing "alcoholics anonymous"? Over the years, Alcoholics Anonymous, or A.A., has gained a negative connotation amongst many communities. A stigma that the ill are less deserving, and yet, the program still stands today at 2,000,000 strong. A.A. is simply a fellowship of men and women sharing their experiences and strength in hopes to solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. There is no requirement for membership other than having the desire to quit drinking. The program is not allied with any denomination, politics, or organization; their primary goal is to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety. The facilities in which A.A. groups hold their meetings range from church offices, rundown clubhouses, or even someone's kitchen, and are typically not the most inviting of environments. Through evidence based research and observation, this project will propose not a treatment center or rehabilitation facility but an environment that reflects the attitude of outreach, openness, and accessibility that is provided through the A.A. program.
This project was divided into two phases, the first ten weeks consisting of research while the second ten weeks were spent on concept and design development. Research topics included alcoholism, rehabilitation facilities, healthcare centers, A.A. centers, homeless shelters, spiritual healing for alcohol abuse, and psychology and the interior space. Precedent studies and site visits were also made throughout the ten week period.
In continuing the research, an ethnographic approach began to take place by using a variety of techniques to gather information such as firsthand observation, conversation and interviews, and an in-depth interview with a key consultant. Through these processes, open sessions of A.A were attended to gain an understanding of the program and create a building block for the next step. From there, a series of questions were developed and a variety of people were interviewed after meetings if willing. From these findings, the concept and design development took place to create the final solution seen here.
Originally the Kehoe Ironworks Foundry located in Savannah, Georgia, the building was built in the 1870's and posed some questions and challenges right from the beginning. The biggest challenge to overcome was the building's division into four sections, each built at a different elevation. The concrete foundation differed in elevation by 15'-0" when added together. The other challenge was to seamlessly integrate the existing structure into a functional and contemporary facility. The building's L-shaped structure paved the way for an overall two-part division of public and private spaces. The horizontal wing has been fit for daily use by active A.A. members and visitors while the vertical wing serves as a more private hotel for those needing to get away.
In the left wing, a centralized reception acts as a perfect send off to either end of the building. As one enters into the meeting area, they rise up into the space from a long, central ramp and are placed into a spiritual core. The space contains four meeting rooms varying in size so that a variety of meeting types can take place simultaneously throughout the day. Two smaller rooms allow for private meetings with one's sponsor and a lounge and coffee bar stimulate conversation between sessions. On the opposite side of the main reception, a cafe lounge encourages interaction as well as acting as a get-a-way for visitors. Individual reading pods are set within a comfortable enclosure and outfitted with A.A.literature such as The Big Book for people seeking a deeper meaning to the program and themselves. A small mezzanine sits atop the reading pods to allow for another area to read and can also be used for more private conversation. A second floor above the cafe lounge is made up of six private rooms for one to "seek their higher power", meditate, read, etc. These rooms also contain an interactive device to enter a message, quote or saying, which is then shared on a double-sided story wall display dividing the hallway. This display is meant to inspire and motivate those who have both recovered or are still struggling with alcoholism to "Keep Coming Back".
Linking the two wings of the building is an expansive and versatile event hall which can hold speaker meetings and conventions. The second half of the building, as previously mentioned, is a hotel which accommodates 22 guests whether they are staying for one night or up to three months. For every two rooms there is a shared kitchen and for each pod of four rooms, a nook that acts as a front porch. This creates a more "neighborly" interaction, encouraging continuous conversation. Each of the two floors contains laundry rooms and lounges and one larger lounge situated at the southern end of the second floor. This lounge contains ample seating, a cyber lounge as well as a pool table. Clerestory windows were also added to the space to maximize the use of daylight.
The entire project showcases the buildings past by exposing much of the existing structure's brick facades, trusses, columns, and signature archways. Bronze and silver medallions, which are typically given at the end of meetings, have been used as a repeating design element throughout the building. These can be seen as accent walls or small additions to a piece of furniture. Various slogans have also been placed throughout to reinforce the many messages of A.A. The goal of the project is to welcome and comfort those who are attending and to help facilitate and reflect the outreach and openness of the program. Alcoholism sticks with you for life, whether you are sober or still addicted, but it is the lending hand, inspirational words, and self-will that encourage you to Keep Coming Back.