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Constructing Community with Design // Nicole Bauknight


Aerial image of Volland

Photo by: Dipen Patel

Abstract: Architecture is more than designing a building, it is shaping and creating communities. A building can transform the environment by the way it responds to its context, purpose, and history.


Audience: To all designers and active community members.

"Constructing Community with Design"


A building can do more than just shape space. It has the power to shape community. Through design, a project can transform from a single entity to an extension of a community. A building that responds to its community is far more compelling and captivating in design, usage and presence than one that stands alone.


As designers, it’s important to expand our viewpoint from designing just a buildings physical attributes to include its surroundings; its characteristics that will contribute to its community. People, place, history. Volland’s community has continually played an important role in shaping our design, scope and thinking. And in turn, our project will be a strong component of Volland’s community, as we are simultaneously designing for the now and planning for the future.

Every site location is set in a community. Whether that community be a busy urban block or a field of cattle and wheat. As designers, it’s important to look around at the community that you need to be accommodating for in your design. For lack of consideration can lead to destruction. Without considering the community context, a building can become a negative factor that doesn’t fit into the surrounding environment and doesn’t serve its community. Understanding Volland’s community and how our design fits into it is an ongoing, cumulative process.


There are many aspects to investigate. Iterations proposed and discarded. Elements to incorporate and people to listen to. How as an architect do you balance all these differing components within one design? It starts with immersing oneself within the community. Starting off this project, we knew nothing about Volland or how Volland was going to evolve our project. But we knew that understanding Volland was the key to designing a successful project. And so we started getting to know the community that is Volland.

Within Volland, there are important communal elements. The open landscape to its West. The lone neighbor to its East. The Volland Store that stands as the gem. The old ruins and buildings that speak to its age. The railroad that runs through like clockwork and its first reason for Volland’s existence. This is the obvious immediate community of Volland. But Volland’s community expands outwards, incorporating other facets.


The Volland Store and its art exhibits attract people from across the nation who come and find a connection with Volland. Creating an Artist Residency Community will pull in artists from all over to connect with Volland. Other residencies in Kansas have connections to Volland as it is emerging on the art scene.


The community also includes the Alma community closely located down the road with people who have direct connections to Volland. And it includes all of us who have our fingers in the design aspects of Volland, Design+Make students and professors. Volland’s extended community is defined by the infinite number of people that cross paths with it and plant its seed somewhere else. Our design needs to respond to Volland’s vast community in a way that enhances and celebrates it.


To understand these connections and how they could transform our design, we started incorporating ourselves into the fabric. Attending art exhibits at the Volland Store. Exploring the natural characteristics of Volland through artistic site exercises. Analyzing present materials and how they shape Volland’s image. Interviewing locals, artists and others for their perspectives and stories. These ongoing investigations have shaped our understanding of Volland and its expansive community that we are setting our foundation on.

Left: Lighting experiment in Volland

Right: Design meeting in Volland

Photos by: Karl Ndieli 

A design is shaped as much by outside influences, like community and context, as much as it will shape and impact the future community and context once it’s erected. Our gathered insight into the heart of the Volland community informed our design process and expanded the design in different, beneficial ways.


While you want to listen to the community and recognize their needs in the program, as an architect you must think critically about their needs and present them in a designed fashion, mixing both purpose and design. Knowing what an art community needs and the culture of Volland helped define the larger scope of the project and drive design decisions.


The larger perspective of creating an Artist Community never left our sight as we developed the individual scheme. Keeping the character of Volland while incorporating new elements was a major driving factor. Preserving Volland’s natural beauty and views shaped orientation and placement. Requirements for artists to live and work together helped develop the program and spaces. How visitors approached Volland shaped the exterior facades. Every bit of information collected was stored and integrated into the design.

Community focus relationship 

Our building is designed to be one of many buildings that will hopefully be built in Volland in the not too distant future. It is the first in a series that will create the Volland Artist Residency Community. Its location is so that other buildings can be built within its radius to create a campus like cluster. We meticulously placed the building in the community, accounting for all the aspects that contribute to the community. Its spaces are created with the thought of people gathering in and around them.


We recognized that this building will not be in an isolated landscape and town for long. It encourages future development in Volland. It encourages Volland to expand upon its influence and foster more community development in Volland.

What must be kept in mind is that we are designing for people and those people are part of a community that will be impacted by our designs. To ignore the critical community influences that could enhance the design is denying its true potential and stifling its positive impact. While the process is more time consuming and arguably harder, the end result is more rewarding for everyone. It’s important to construct a community, not just a building.

Written by Nicole Bauknight

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