David Bowie Experience Center
Type: Adaptive Reuse
Location: Wasilla, Alaska
Status: Academic Project
Scope: Master Planning + Programming
Contributors: John Baldwin
The foundation of our project relies upon the narrative that David Bowie utilized Alaska as his escape: a retreat from fans, a place to focus on music, and an outpost to meet with other artists. While there, he was approached with the opportunity to purchase an abandoned Walmart. I light of his death, we’ve decided to transform the abandoned Big Box Store into a festival grounds, museum, and archive to honor his distinct legacy.
The site itself is located on the outskirts of Wasilla, Alaska; a location which experiences extreme changes, similar to that of Bowie’s career. In the summer, it experiences eighteen hours of sunlight, and in the winter 18 hours of darkness. Generous snow and ample sunshine are dependable in their respective seasons.
The schedule of the festival follows the uniqueness of this climate by hosting two festivals per year: one at the summer solstice and one at the winter solstice. The curation of these festivals is done by an artist in residency, following a set calendar. Each begins with a large performance, continues with multiple intimate performances and free time to explore Alaska, and wraps up with a large show. Each winter, a new artist is brought onboard.Their first winter is observational with the beginning of their term at the summer festival where they curate stage sets, art upon the face of the floating museum building, the acts, and any other elements they wish to add.
The site is centered around the existing Big Box store and based upon the modularity of its form. The 50’x50’ grid is transformed to 100’x100’ to manage the site, and 10’x10’ to coordinate the on site campground. Scattered throughout this area are a series of clusters of colored pipes. These are intended to continue the line of the trees in an odd way while also serving as navigational devices through color and evening lighting. Within the clusters existed a mirror volume that acts as the bathroom and bathing facilities for the festival grounds.
The existing Walmart has been stripped to its structure so as to facilitate performance a space and a space for rigging and installations. Also forming this space is the lower bar that serves as the dining hall for the festival as well as the bar portion of the upper floating bar which houses the remains of David Bowie and serves as the counter weight to the cantilevered museum. The museum serves as a year round experience for attendees, and it takes you through the journey of Bowie’s life. You start in a dark room at the bottom of the bar until the doors open on a lower level. As you exit into the dimly lit space, you see the early and formative years of Bowie’s life. You emerge into a sunken amphitheater and continue onto an outdoor trail. On you path are a series of capsules that descend below ground where you get to hear a curation of his music. Finally, you cross a bridge into the main museum where you see pieces of his lasting legacy before continuing to the end where you see his remains floating above the grounds dedicated to him.