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Environmental Awareness // Phil Macaluso


The process of designing spaces to bring a distinctive attention to our environment is a very intricate process. There is obviously a benefit and value placed on this notion because we can see countless examples in modern day works of landscape design, architecture, and artistic works. This aspiration for designers to expand the users understanding of an environment requires a much higher understanding of that environment by the designer themselves. As architects we are taught throughout our schooling to conduct in-depth site analyses that dig deep into the essence of the place and can reveal aspects and opportunities for the design. Through the process of designing with a conscious awareness of a place, an architectural work can also benefit sustainability practices, conservation efforts, and create beautiful, spiritual places.

The Preston Outdoor Education Station’s design incorporates the idea of multiple stations each telling a part of a story about the prairie. This carefully considered approach, challenged the client’s original program of a single pavilion structure to educate campers on the prairie landscape. The design not only places a large gathering space and multiple stations around features of the landscape, but also starts a conversation by using simple design moves and a material palette that speaks to the landscape’s natural features.

Dry Stack Wall photo by Phil Macaluso

The thought that this project should maintain a low visual profile among the prairie was extremely important to the client. The design for the main gathering space was chosen carefully for its integrated stone seating into the ridge that lowered the overall height of the shade structure in order to maintain the panoramic views. This led to creating an accessible ramp along the natural ridge to the seating area and ramping back out. Limestone from excavating the gathering space and ramp is laboriously reorganized into a total of 300 linear feet of dry stack walls.  While the physical labor put into this wall is high, sourcing the stone from the site is sustainable because it eliminates waste, energy spent on transportation, and extra material costs. By utilizing the natural stone we also reveal a geologic aspect of the prairie to visitors.

Forge Charring wood photo by Blake Toews

Charred cedar platforms are a subtle clue informing visitors of the annual practice of prairie burning. While visitors may not be able to experience the burning on the few days they occur in the spring, the platforms bring a material that reflects this sometimes unseen yet highly important aspect of conserving the prairie. The cedar wood sourced from local lumber yards also bring an awareness of the environment to mind. Cedar trees are considered an invasive species in the Flint Hills of Kansas. By using cedar to our advantage in this environment and by teaching an appreciation of the prairie, we are promoting the conservation of the prairie.


The termination point for visitors is the sky station. Located at the very top of the hill, the platform provides incredible 360 degree views of the prairie. To reinforce this idea the platform is shaped in a circle. The station was designed large enough for a group of up to 15 to enjoy a yoga session, to view the sunrise / set or even stargazing at night. The platform floating among the grasses is accented with a large limestone boulder, integrated into the circle it provides a meditative space similar to that of a Zen garden. This versatile station concludes the experience by bringing visitors out into the vast prairie and allows for reflection and appreciation of the beautiful landscape.  

Through designing with environmental awareness in mind, the design+make studio has created a project that follows sustainable principles, promotes conservation of an endangered landscape and provides spiritual retreat that can bring visitors closer to nature.

Photo by Phil Macaluso

Written by Phil Macaluso

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