Strange Places That Don’t Exist [Urban Artists’ Colony]

This building is something like a monastery, a co-working studio and a slot canyon. Visiting artists spend a season here living and making art in community. It’s a vertical village organized around an extremely tall and narrow central courtyard (the canyon), with a single circulation path of connected halls, ramps and stairs (the trail) spiraling up to a skyward-pointing library and rooftop gardens (the peak).

It’s an austere experience of ascent in the middle of a hectic city, like a sudden hike in the mountains. Visitors to the building progress from the cool shadows of the courtyard floor to the sun-drenched promontory of the rooftops. Residents of this cloistered environment adjust their daily lives to the constant necessity of ascending and descending as they move from any one space to another in the building.

I made the model and drawings for this place as a student in 2004. At the time I was particularly interested in chalk pastel, the inner glow of buildings at nighttime and spaces with severely tall proportions. I also really just wanted to be outside hiking through slot canyons.

arts colony perspective 1 small  arts colony perspective 2 small

model section



  1. Hi there, I just stumbled upon this post while searching “urban artists colony.” Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly and quietly fostering a vision for a place that is strikingly similar to your description. Is the place you describe real or conceptual? Can you offer any names or links? Thanks for any info!


    1. Hi Aimée, Thanks for reaching out. This is a conceptual project I conceived from my grad school days, one of my favorites. This one’s not real but I’m lucky now to be able to get to design some real-world places that aim for some of the same intentions. I practice architecture with Lake Flato Architects and a focus of mine has been on studio art facilities. I’ve worked on several college studio art centers that you might find interesting: UT Austin – and Knox College – – this one is under construction now. The intention with both of these buildings is to nurture a vital and site-specific art-making community within their larger school campuses, though these two project don’t have a residential component to them. You can find models for a more monastic arts community at artist-in-residency programs around the world like the American Academy in Rome, or at a smaller scale there are places like Art Pace – One of my favorites architecturally is the Atlantic Center for the Arts: If you know anyone who could make another one of these places happen in the world let me know!


      1. Hi Lewis, thanks so much for your reply! I appreciate the clarification and all the links. Your designs are stunning and I love the intent behind them. The Atlantic Center campus is incredible as well, both aesthetically and in terms of its mission. I love how their programs encompass so many different disciplines.

        While the place I envision has gone through several iterations, I’ve come to lean most strongly towards having a space with a residential component. Having a gift and desire for hospitality, I like to think of it as a communal home or boarding house for artists with integrated work spaces for multiple disciplines (as well as library and gardens, like you describe). The contemplative/monastic atmosphere is also a recurring theme. And while I’ve considered the more traditional rural retreat space, I keep returning to the concept of carving out a creative oasis in the midst of an urban landscape. The actual location would obviously have to be very strategic.

        I’m currently based in Atlanta. As far as I’m aware, there are few arts residencies here at present, and certainly nothing like what I’ve conceived. I’m not opposed to looking elsewhere to establish my vision, but with Atlanta’s creative community growing rapidly, I suspect the ground is fertile. At present, I’m solidifying my vision and identifying what knowledge/skills/tools I need to get started. I was fortunate to discover the Alliance of Artists Communities and I’m in the midst of going through their resources, as well as reaching out to existing residency programs to see if they can offer any hands-on experience.

        Whether in Atlanta or elsewhere, I’m determined to bring this vision to life. I’ve saved your contact info and I’ll be sure to reach out again once it begins to take shape. And if you know or learn of anyone with a desire to collaborate on launching a space like this, please do let me know! Let’s keep in touch. Thanks Lewis!

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