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A Motel in Wiliston, North Dakota

As part of an ongoing research project on the architecture of the ‘Big Box’ initiated by Kersten Geers and David Van Severen, the project brief centered around the idea that the architecture was reducible to its very perimeter, where the economy of the envelope determined the success of the building. From the start, the research has been interested in an argument for scale, turning even the most mundane of gestures into monumental presence. A big box transforms the territory it inhabits, despite a complete ignorance towards its immediate surroundings.

If one considers the architecture of the United States, the Big Box is undoubtedly part of its DNA. This was so in 1960’s corporate America, but is perhaps today—due to recent developments within the champions of American distribution and technology—more than ever the case; Big Boxes provide a mirror image. So perhaps, portraits of Big Boxes do in one way or another represent the country they support.

In selecting and designing a specific site and program to begin to represent the “American Big Box", interest was directed towards the recent phenomenon of immigration to the American Northern territories. States such as that of North Dakota have witnessed a massive influx of workers due to the shale gas boom with cities like Williston at its epicenter. Housing these workers has been a major issue as supply has not been able to keep up with the demand.

The proliferation of affordable low maintenance housing in the form of motel accommodation has been a favorable option by these economic immigrants which typically fit the profile of young single males looking to benefit from the boom. The motel would factor in the extended stay of the worker however in addressing the eventual settlement of the immigrant, the typology is a short-term solution to a mounting problem.

To begin to address this issue, the idea of creating a housing facility that factors in the character of motel living and expanding it to the scale of a new settlement came to mind. A dichotomy of capitalistic/socialistic overtones and undertones are played out as the “Go North” drive is represented through a Motel in Williston County North Dakota.

Featured in the publication "Boxes for America" as part of the "Architecture without Content" series ed. by Office KGDVS - Harvard University Graduate School of Design + EPFL