2017 AZ Awards Winner: A+ Student Award

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At a YMCA facility near the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, architecture students from Kansas State University created the Preston Outdoor Education Station – an inspiring backdrop for outdoor education lessons.

Preston Outdoor Education Station

Kansas State University, College of Architecture, Planning and Design
Manhattan, U.S.

David Dowell with Torrence Campbell, Tamra Collins, Luke Custer, A.J. Henry, Brent Higgins, Daniel Johnson, Phil Macaluso, Alex Martinez, Kelsey Middlekamp, Briana Reece, Jake Rose, Sevrin Scarcelli and Blake Toews

Children in Kansas take field trips to Camp Wood, a YMCA facility located an hour outside of Wichita, to gain a greater appreciation for the area’s tallgrass prairie ecosystem. As the institution approached its centennial, staff sought fresh facilities that could act as an inspiring backdrop to their outdoor education lessons.

The scheme, developed by architecture students at Kansas State University, does not introduce the sort of Emerald City that would trick Dorothy into thinking she’s not in the Midwest anymore. Rather, by spotlighting the region’s subdued beauty, this project might just give her a fresh appreciation of her home state. From a gathering station that includes washroom and storage facilities, visitors proceed along a short trail to a series of viewing platforms that act as vantage points on a 4,445-hectare landscape defined by wind, grass, rock and sky.

These pavilions are almost Stonehenge-like in their ability to be at once modern and prehistoric. Each employs a restrained palette of cedar, weathered steel and limestone – rugged materials able to withstand the controlled burn that is set each spring to stimulate growth. The charring treatment on the wood used throughout the structures is a poetic nod to this annual ritual.

“Most people don’t realize the tallgrass prairie is endangered. This project does a masterful job at making small insertions to help reveal a landscape that is being lost.”  – Nina-Marie Lister

Students worked under the tutelage of professor David Dowell, alongside a crew of volunteer professionals who helped with the masonry, welding and carpentry components of construction; students even learned traditional methods of limestone dry stacking to assemble the 91-metre wall that marks the site’s entrance. With so much of the work accomplished pro bono, the project was completed for an impressively modest budget of US$150,000.

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