Getting In It: A Landscape of Thresholds
The national representation of the tall grass prairie is at The National Tall Grass Prairie Preserve just north of Strong City, Kansas. Here the old Spring Hill ranch house and farmyards have been converted into a visitor center and historical exhibit. Bus rides, hiking trails and excursions onto the preserve are all based here. But, in order to experience the true nature of this landscape it is best to enter through a crack in the fence instead of thru the open main gate. The visitor experience must strive to recreate this feeling, the program, the architecture may not take place along someone else’s property but it can create the feeling of slipping thru a barrier, a threshold, into a different world.
This project runs along the fence line on the Eastern edge of the preserve, creating an inhabited threshold between expansive and close horizon views, privately owned prairie and the preserve. Public spaces open on both sides of the building along extended circulation paths. These paths blur the termini of the building by continuing seamlessly into the prairie itself.
Threading the Edge
My project is threaded along the edge condition of Fox Creek, where it is sheltered from the harsh upland prairie environment. Perched along the creek, the guest rooms look from the shelter of the trees into the tall dense grasses of a restored bottomland prairie to the west and onto the rocky prairie uplands to the east.
See more images and information about this project at http://www.jamesklauder.com
The Visitor Center located at the south of Cottonwood Falls creates opportunities to expand the Tallgrass National Preserve, and consequently bring a greater field of vision of the large-scale prairie. My concept is to lift the landscape and concentrate all side functions under the lifted space, creating a continuous view of the landscape. In addition to the view of the sunset of the prairie which is available to every room, visitors staying in the living rooms can extend their view through the guest rooms’ rooftop and eventually reach the prairie. And, not only the view is available to the visitors in the guest rooms, a direct touch of top of the tallgrass is also provided.
The Plainstay Motel
The main goal of this project is to relocate the Flint Hills Visitor’s Center from the Spring Hill Mansion, in the center of the preserve, to the southeastern edge. This building will stand as a connective device as well as a commentary on the traditional motel typology, responding to its context along route 50 and its proximity to the nearby trail that connects Cottonwood Falls to Strong City, which then merges with the existing trails within the preserve. The Plainstay Motel is a modest, clean and simple place to stay in the center of everything that makes the Flint Hills great.
During our first trip to the Fling Hills, two things left a strong impression with me. The first was the way the stones hide in the grass. I liked the looming feeling when they were unseen before they appeared. The other thing that impressed me when I was in the prairie is that I was surrounded on every side by the grasses. When you looking at the views, it should be flat like a photo, but a 360 degree view. These are the two main concepts of my design.
The Sublime Void
I began by looking at prairie art and literature to distill what is so compelling about this landscape. Walt Whitman noted that, while this landscape is not as dramatic or picturesque as the landscapes of the West, it is more compelling to be in, to travel through and experience. He called this “the sublime void.” My project seeks to maintain the sublime experience of an empty, boundless, horizontal landscape by blending it into the topography: a humble building that respects the naked prairie, the void, in which it sits.