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A Quiet Beauty // Evelyne Chokkattu


Written by Evelyne Chokkattu

“Abandoned Places” by Fábio Araujo. ​​​​​​

"A Quiet Beauty"


There is an understated elegance and beauty in Volland, Kansas that has survived and flourished through the years, with its most recent owners, the Reece’s, beginning to uncover and fine tune its qualities. It's iconic store; has been transformed into a simple hollow shell of brick and stone, repurposed with provisions for town gatherings, displaying pieces of art, and the occasional dinner party.


With the Reece’s interest in further developing the property to be an institute for artists, writers, philosophers, and those alike, our studio, Design+Make, is now in the process of redesigning and renovating the North House as accommodation. It is the clear first step towards building the arts and humanities institute. A step towards providing a place for creative work to happen, or a sanctuary for whoever chooses to visit it in seek of a peaceful environment. An environment that the town undoubtedly can provide.


The layers of history as well as the secluded location in the countryside are what make it a curious town to stay in. The ability to maintain and expand on these factors in the renovation of the house will be crucial. In a similar fashion to the Volland Store renovation, whose interiors have been modernized without losing its charm, our primary goal is to preserve and build off of the intriguing atmosphere of the house.


"Art is never finished, only abandoned," Leonardo Da Vinci supposedly said, which may explain why abandoned places are a popular subject or backdrop amongst artists worldwide. From burned down houses to rusting railway stations and entire ghost towns, abandoned places have a haunting beauty and an element of mystery that draw people to them..

Abstract: The character of Volland has been built up over the years and part of our approach to the Volland House Renovation is to learn and highlight the different layers that make up its history.

Audience: There is a magnetism in abandoned places, with many artists showing interest in capturing the feeling of loneliness and sadness, as well as the rich history that appear to be frozen in them. Introducing a renovation project to Volland brings forward a lot of questions of how architecture can also be used to appreciate and capture this characteristic.

“Abandoned Places” by Fábio Araujo. ​​​​​​​

Digital Art, retouching. 100% Photo Manipulation - Adobe Photoshop. Personal project exploring abandoned places.

In his work, Fabio Araujo creates super-realistic images using photoshop, each work is built up of multiple layers. Each layer adds depth and realism to the story of the scene he creates. Another artist, Rebecca Skinner, whose work I became interested in, also seeked out these types of places to photograph. Some photos are incredibly dramatic, you can imagine the sound of your footsteps echoing across the deserted spaces. There is a sadness and loneliness in these images that also implores the viewer to wonder what happened?

Lighting Experiment in Volland, Kansas

Photo By: Karl Ndieli

There is a feeling of intrigue and wonder in Volland, but only for visitors that choose to pay closer attention to the sleepy town. The questions that emerge from exploring a place like Volland causes awareness of details to skyrocket, because there is a desire to know the history behind the old walls - what happened here, and why, and to whom. Once we were aware of its rich history, it became more apparent with each visit that the place had a thousand stories to tell, especially being privy to the behind the scenes of the town. The beginnings of Volland are displayed proudly; preserved within the scars left in the brick walls of the store; in the rumble and toot of the trains passing by; the cracks of light that beam out of the blacksmith shop at night; all the dusty, old photo albums filled with smiling faces; and the ruins of the old house that burned down, now overgrown with weeds.

The most exciting time I have found is at night; when the feeling of isolation is at an extreme; stumbling around with a flashlight, surrounded by darkness and silence, but by simply turning off your flashlight and letting your eyes slowly adjust, you find some nights that the stars and moon are bright enough to light your path after all. But even throughout the daytime, the place has a similar effect on you - it creates a hyper awareness -- and that is what needs to be harnessed in the redesign.

This feeling is of awareness is created by the seclusion and privacy of the countryside; it’s minimal distractions of modern life. The setting allows you to focus on whatever task is at hand and also, in a way, heightens your senses. I imagine the humble living environment would allow the temporary resident(s) to appreciate the simple tasks of daily life.

The redesign aims to provide the modern needs of the resident(s) without harming the atmosphere and character of Volland, and to evoke the same feelings of intrigue and hidden secrets, that come with its rich history. When renovating the house, we must be careful not to peel away the essential layers of history that has given Volland its character. Using architectural design as a tool to tell a story, we will be able to build off of the character of Volland; its charm, history and quiet beauty.

The study of abandoned places can be related to one of the central projects of the humanities; to experience the world through the perspective of another person. In human nature, there is an intense curiosity about the lives of others, it’s part of the pleasure we get from art and literature. In Richard Happer’s book Abandoned Places, he explains that “...something about decay suggests human endeavour. There’s something about the fallen majesty of human hope that has an eerie beauty. It makes you remember the things that are still around you.” With the abandoned houses of Volland we were free to rummage through another’s home, their personal belongings, the things they chose to leave behind, and begin to paint a picture in our minds of the past -- of their past.

China Factory

Photo By: Rebecca Skinner

The idea of encasing the porch in a glass facade is one design option that illustrates the goal well. It will gain interior square footage, give you a glimpse into the house, and more importantly it is designed to have a subtle, ‘light touch’ on the house that is respectful of and clearly distinct from old materials so that the house can maintain its layers of history that you cannot reproduce. 


In order to visualise each design option, renderings become a crucial part of the design and review process. Renderings have the ability to illustrate and highlight the design concept and goals. With the major goal of this project being to preserve layers of history Photographs of the house and site are integrated into the renderings as much as possible, so that the natural textures and imperfections bring the image to life. By including the flaws and imperfections we can capture the essence of the place and its history. This also helps illustrate the fact that we are making modifications to an existing house, rather than building anew.

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