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10 high-design boathouses around the world

From Oklahoma City to Oxford, England, a look at stunning rowing facilities on three continents

The Studio Gang Architects-designed WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, in Chicago.
Photo courtesy Studio Gang Architects via Designboom

When it comes to eye-popping design, museums and concert halls tend to get all the shine. But there’s another building type worth the attention of architecture lovers: the boathouse.

Boathouses built in recent years, largely for colleges and private clubs, are adopting a distinctly contemporary style. In a crop of modern boathouses, designers are acknowledging waterside sites and the beauty of the sport.

Designers do this while taking into account all of the challenges of building a fitness center, plus additional items like storage for multiple teams, indoor water tanks, flexible docks, and space for spectators.

In keeping with our love of design that may—ahem—sail under the radar, here are 10 architecturally stunning boathouses around the globe.

WMS Boathouse at Clark Park

A view of the WMS Boathouse (left) at Clark Park, along the Chicago River.
Photo courtesy Studio Gang Architects
Inside the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park.
Photo courtesy Studio Gang Architects

Studio Gang Architects, the Chicago-based firm helmed by MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant winner Jeanne Gang and most recently in the spotlight for for its National Building Museum Summer installation and planned expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Natural History Museum, designed this boathouse along the Chicago River. Opened in 2013, the 22,620-square-foot complex includes a stunning indoor rowing tank, which comes in handy when the seasons change and it’s too cold for outdoor practice.

Studio Gang took inspiration from the angles of a crew team’s oar strokes using timelapses of rowers’ movements, then built the roof to match those angles. The Eleanor Boathouse at Park 571, a sister project to the WMS Boathouse that opened late last year, was built using the same truss shapes.

Shea Rowing Center

Via Princeton University

The Shea Rowing Center sits along Carnegie Lake, and was designed to complement the architectural style of the original Class of 1887 Boathouse. Construction of the new training facilities was completed in 2000, and includes much of the original architecture, including the tower, which is still used as the entrance.

University of Minnesota Boathouse

Photo by George Heinrich Photography

Designed by HGA Architects and Engineers for the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the boathouse is home to the women's varsity and men's club crew teams. The two-story, wood-clad varsity rowing facility blends in with the surrounding wooded area of East River Flats Park. Through expansive glazing, rowers in the tank and erg rooms have views of both the Minneapolis skyline and the Mississippi River.

Melbourne University Boathous Extension

Home to the oldest rowing club in Australia, the Melbourne University Boathouse expertly marries old and new. In 2011, The University of Melbourne commissioned an extension to the original 1909 boat shed. Local firm Lovell Chen designed the timber-encased addition to sit next to the heritage-listed building without overpowering it. Both the old and new structures have matching gable pitches and corrugated-iron roofs.

Boston Community Rowing Boathouse

Photo by Jane Messinger

Boston is and has always been a rowing city. And in 2010, the Charles River saw a new, modern addition to its waterfront with the Harry Parker Boathouse for local nonprofit organization Community Rowing, Inc..

The facade was designed to mimic the movement of the river itself. Composite panels of resin and wood veneer “operate as louvers, opening and closing to naturally ventilate the boat storage and provide both functionality and energy efficiency,” according to the architects.

Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse


This floating boathouse on New York’s Harlem River was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. It was built as a floating structure in part due to the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s initial fears for the health of the area’s intertidal ecosystem.

A series of piers and floating docks links the boathouse to the promenade. The painted wood board-and-batten exterior gives it a classic, collegiate feel. It opened to the community in 2004 and is currently run by Row New York.

Minneapolis Rowing Club Boathouse

Photo via VJAA

From the outside, the Minneapolis Rowing Club boathouse looks like a simple, stylish warehouse. But inside, you get a sense of the thought put into the boathouse’s dynamic, parabola-shaped roof. From firm VJAA: “As in the rhythm of rowing, the repetition of structural framing has the potential to create a sense of dynamic, three-dimensional space and movement.”

Rowing Center Bled

Photo via Multiplan Arhitekti

Built directly into the shore of Lake Bled, the Rowing Centre in Bled, Slovenia, is a marvel. It was intended to complement the surrounding natural beauty. The stands consist of two parts: an upper section, with a viewing platform, toilets, and storage nestled underneath. The roof terrace is meant to be used by spectators. It was completed in 2011 to host that year’s World Rowing Championships.

Chesapeake Boathouse, Oklahoma City

Photo via Boathouse District

After a $56 million river renovation and the renaming of the river itself—what was once the North Canadian River is now the Oklahoma River—the Chesapeake Boathouse was completed in 2006. It was designed by Elliott + Associates Architects for the Oklahoma Association for Rowing, or “OAR,” for short.

According to the architects’ website, the project was “designed as a metaphor for a rowing shell and includes a reflecting pool wrapping two sides of the structure.” There are sixteen columns of light around the boathouse, each representing an oar. And, at night, the light around the reflecting pool “creates the sense that the building is floating above water.”

University College Boathouse, Oxford

Photo via Flickr

The University College Boathouse sits on the southern bank of the Thames River in Oxford, England. It was completed in 2007, replacing the original 19th century UCBC boathouse that was destroyed by arson in 1999.

The architects wanted this new boathouse to be not just beautiful and modern, but also strong and sturdy. In keeping with this stipulation in the original brief for the project, they built it with dark-gray brick. The roof, both internal and external sides, is copper—blended with bronze for durability. According to the architects’ website, “the long copper roof suggests the keel of an upturned boat, and cuts through the sky like an oar through water.”