Architecture Courts the Prairie // Daniel Johnson
The Tallgrass Prairie begins with the endless sky. Clouds play and dance along the rolling hills. As day turns to night, the stars begin to return the light to the darkness. The sky allows for the winds to flow freely. The direction shifts with the seasons, but hardly stops completely. Grasses greet the winds with a wave. Their swaying movements never seem to tire. These grasses grow green and tall in the summer months and brown through the winter. Fires whip through the grasses; stirring the fauna and flora along the way, turning the constricting biomass into nutritious topsoil. The deep root systems stay protected in the mix of soil and rock. The limestone shelves formed by differential erosion create unique stair-stepped layers within the shale soils.
Is architecture the best way to bring awareness to this subtle environment, or any environment? Architecture, especially in such a natural setting, should be used to enhance. We were tasked by our client to do one thing - “Make the building disappear into the landscape.” In order for it to truly disappear, it must be able to survive the landscape. This includes the strong winds, the heavy rain and snow, and, most importantly, the burning.
As a studio, we are exploring the question of whether architecture can facilitate environmental awareness to a greater degree than the harm it might do to an unfamiliar place. The Tallgrass Prairie is already down to 4% of its original size. Reducing that number more and interrupting natural habitats and water flow patterns could have a negative effect on the place in the long run. One factor playing into our design is knowing that few people will wander into the Prairie without purpose. Our goal was to bring individuals into the Prairie with minimal disruption. People cannot have appreciation for a place without a deep understanding.
The simple idea of separating out the different parts of the Prairie into singular moments allows for easier comprehension. Each station along the path presents an opportunity to enhance a different part and celebrate it from a new perspective. When one reaches the end of the journey, they will have a deeper understanding, and ultimately a greater appreciation, of the Prairie. They will be able to piece every part together and reflect on the whole.
Architecture can be successful in creating awareness when it is stripped of extra distractions to just its purest form. There is the Prairie and then there is architecture, and they must be married into a harmonious union. The architecture should respectfully follow the movements of the environment; it must become completely of the place.
The prairie is….
Architecture is in the Prairie, Architecture is of the Prairie
Written by Daniel Johnson