Video 1 – ‘Fear should be treated like fire’. Live action footage provided by Teton Gravity Research.

Fig. 1 – Alaska Rendezvous Lodge seen from the helicopter cockpit.

This 52,000 sq ft  complex was designed for Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides, an extreme skiing company operating out of Thompson Pass in the Chugach Mountains. Sited in an area that gets 30-80 ft of snow per year, the project incorporates a heliport, maintenance hangar, guest lodge and bar, warehouse and logistics base.

Fig. 2 – Site location and Canadian-United States border indicated in red (source: NASA).

Fig. 3 – Brown bear den site study areas in Southeast Alaska, 2008-2017 (source: NIH National Center for Biotechnology Information).

Fig. 4 – Kenai Fjords National Park study showed substantial retreat glacial from 1984 to 2021 (source: Tarryn Black, University of Washington).

Fig. 5 – Bear Glacier retreated about 3 miles from 1994 to 2021, as the lagoon at its base grew (source: U.S. National Park Service/Deborah Kurtz).

When this project was commissioned in 2001 local environmental concern focused primarily on protecting wildlife habitat from aviation noise pollution and skier-triggered avalanches. Regulating the nascent Alaskan heli-skiing industry was a priority (fig. 3 and ref. 5). Today, the undeniable impact of carbon emissions on climate – particularly from aviation gas – would make it impossible to justify involvement in a project such as this (figs. 4, 5).

Fig. 6 – Mount Billy Mitchell, elevation 13,855 ft seen from the lodge site.

Fig. 7 – Blue hole weather phenomenon.

The site was selected to minimize flight-time to and from Mount Billy Mitchell’s virgin slopes with descents of up to 5,000 ft (fig. 6 and ref. 2). In Thompson Pass, ski-days are maximized by a weather phenomenon known as a Blue Hole (fig. 7) that results in snowstorms from the north clearing there first. Extreme skiing, an inherently dangerous endeavor, brings helicopters and skiers into close proximity in unstable and often unpredictable terrain. It is organized around ‘zones of hazard’ that establish a safety protocol spanning heliport and avalanche-prone peaks (refs. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8).


Given paramilitary safety protocols for skiers and snowboarders who are there, after all, for the sheer thrill of extreme sport, we asked: Could architecture signal control and freedom simultaneously?

Fig. 8 – Approach for landing showing vehicle access from mile 8 of Richardson Highway.

Fig. 9 – Helicopter descent and views from the vehicle access road.

Fig. 10 – The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was built by a private consortium of major oil companies after the richest oil strike on the American continent in Prudhoe Bay in 1968.

Fig. 11 – The pipeline clips the lodge site before crossing under the Richardson Highway. Thermosyphons conduct heat from oil to protruding elevated fins to prevent the permafrost from thawing (Frank Kovalchek, Flickr).

Fig. 12 – Site plan showing the access road from mile 8 of Richardson Highway, helicopter approach path, and the Trans Alaska Pipeline travelling beneath the NE corner of the site.

Fig. 13 – Plans (left) helicopter landing pads and lodge roof-deck for avalanche rescue training, (middle) lodge guest rooms, helicopter landing pads and maintenance hangar, (right) equipment storage warehouse and operations level.

Fig. 14 – Section (left), east elevation (right)

Fig. 15 – Model shows elevated helipads and maintenance hanger with panoramic window of air-traffic control and bar above.

Fig. 16 – The air-traffic control room and bar share a continuous counter that is separated by a one-way mirror.

The helipad landing deck is the first ‘zone of hazard’. Looking up after landing, arriving guests see through the wraparound panoramic window that overlooks the landing pads into the control room and bar –  danger and pleasure juxtaposed (fig. 15). Relaxing in the bar after a day in the air and on extreme slopes, skiers observe behind-the-scenes safety in action through a one-way mirror that divides the continuous counter shared by bar and control room (fig. 16).

Fig. 17 – The amygdala shown in red, is a pair of almond-shaped clusters deep within the temporal lobes of the brain. It is associated with processing emotions, especially anxiety and fear, but also pleasure.

Fig. 18 – The Bayesian brain hypothesis. Diagram adapted from de Ridder, Vanneste and Freeman, “The Bayesian brain: Phantom percepts resolve sensory uncertainty,” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 44 (July 2014).

The Bayesian brain hypothesis (fig. 18 and ref. 13) argues that to conserve energy, the brain avoids ‘recreating the world anew’ with each encounter. Instead, this model posits that a nervous system continually makes predictions about the world and updates those predictions based on what it senses. The environment is tapped for thermodynamic free energy and scanned for information that reduces uncertainty. The creation of perception increases certainty and decreases free energy, and the whole cycle restarts.

Fig. 19 – Model view from south east.

Fig. 24 – Aurora borealis in the night sky from the south-west.


Southern Alaska, USA


52,000 sq ft




Heliport, hotel, air-traffic control tower, bar, aircraft maintenance hanger and warehouse


Steel frame, prefabricated panels, galvanized sheet metal, wood, stone, glass


Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Ski Guides


Lindy Roy with Gavin Bardes, Jason Lee, Michael Maggio, and J. Christopher Whitelaw


Okavango Delta Spa, Hotel QT


Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, ‘New Hotels for Global Nomads’

Henry Urbach Architecture, ‘X-Roy Projects’

SFMOMA, ‘ROY Design Series 1′


TIME (Special edition Spring, 2004)

Conde Nast Traveler (November, 2004)

bob: International Magazine of Space Design (September, 2005)

Julia Hasting, ed., 100 Architects 10 Critics (Phaidon, 2005)

New Hotels for Global Nomads (Merrell Publishers: 2003)

ROY Design Series 1 (SFMoMA: 2003)

ROY : Architecture of Risk (Michigan Papers: 2003)

Dwell (June, 2002)

Casamica (October, 2002)

The Mixture (November, 2002)

Monitor (January, 2003)

Abitare (October, 2003)

Harvard Design Magazine (Spring/Summer 2004)

Vogue (September, 2007)

Los Angeles Times (August 10, 2003)

Sleeper (February, 2003)

Casamica (September, 2003)


James J. Gibson, ‘Ecological Approach to Visual Perception’ and ‘Ground Theory of Space Perception’.


Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, ‘Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALS, and maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work’.

Ref. 1 - Optical Array (pilot) James J. Gibson, 'Ground Theory of Space Perception'.

Ref. 2 - Brig. Gen. William 'Billy' Mitchell considered 'father of the U.S. Airforce'.

Ref. 3 - Helicopter approach.

Ref. 4 - ARL Protocols for avalanche rescue.

Ref. 5 - Visual inspection of icepack to determine if it is avalanche-prone.

Ref. 6 - Pre-descent magnification of snow to assess potential for an avalanche.

Ref. 7 - Transceiver and Avalung are key avalanche rescue and survival gear.

Ref. 8 - Search tactic for avalanche survivors.

Ref. 9 - Lodge roof forms are generated from steel ship hull design geometries.

Ref. 10 - Steel sections of a ship hull.

Ref. 11 - Ski helmet.

Ref. 12 - Location of the amygdala.

Ref. 13 - Bayesian updating.