Landscape of Change // Phil Macaluso

2/12/2016

Our site at the Camp Wood YMCA lies at the intersection of purely social settings and incredible environmental conditions. These two factors, from the start, have heavily influenced our design for the project. A thorough site analysis of the climate, ecology, geology, history, senses, seasons, and even local art, has given our team a better perspective of what it means to design, then build, a pavilion at Camp Wood. The goal of the Preston Outdoor Education Station is to create an aesthetic experience of the prairie like no other.

Prairie Panorama

 

Photo by Phillip Macaluso

Aesthetics can be defined as the emotional responses to beauty and artistic moments through not only vision but all senses working in harmony. The natural aesthetics of the prairie can be further appreciated once more knowledge of the place is personally uncovered. Allen Carlson, a professor and author on aesthetics of nature and environmental philosophy argues that, “in the absence of such knowledge, many natural environments look visually chaotic, lacking discernible pattern and order” (Parsons 2).  So only after the tallgrass prairie is experienced in a particular way, one that engages all of the senses, can it be established as one of the most profound landscape experiences available on Earth.

 

The role the seasons play is essential to nature’s functionality and to helping outsiders understand the beauty of this unique landscape. The temperate continental climate provides Kansas with a wide range of weather patterns from freezing, blinding blizzards, to warm days with perfectly clear skies. For example, the summers are warm but southern winds bring much needed thermal comfort. Storms move quickly across the sky and can be seen from miles away. Low on the hillside, the birds and insects can be heard singing in a seemingly disordered symphony. The grasses sway in the wind and grow tall while the sun rises and falls. The sun’s significance runs deep, as plant life transforms light into energy.  An assortment of wildflowers bloom all summer long and provide a constantly changing aroma from the sweet smells of mint leaf beebalms in mid-summer to the colorful asters and goldenrods in late summer.

 Tall Goldenrods in August

Photo by Phillip Macaluso

In the fall, the clear skies give way to overcast as the winds shift direction carrying cooler air through. The bright greens of the prairie shift to stunning golden tans as the climate grows drier and the grasses transform. As the days grow shorter, windblown nights grow longer. The winter arrives slowly as temperatures drop. The punishing winds rattle the frozen grasses, offering a sense of peacefulness. Snow falls but the tallgrasses refuse to retreat with their deep root systems protected by the rocky soils warmth. This warmth allows for more sugars to be absorbed thus reducing the stress from freezing temperatures.

 

The spring months are the most important for the prairie as this is when the tallgrasses begin to grow out of their dormant winter months. The rain brings much needed moisture to the soil while the rise in temperature allows frost to thaw and the plant’s growing cycle can resume. Specifically, the one drastic transformation that occurs every 2-5 years in the spring, is the prairie burn. The prairie fires may leave the landscape looking like a scene out of a doomsday movie, but they are a very important tool for the conservation of the prairie. The burning, (when done right), removes excess buildup of biomass and kills invasive species of flora. The tallgrasses are able to survive the fires because of their deep root systems, while the burnt organic matter provides necessary nutrients for them to grow back quickly. In the following months the landscape transforms dramatically from frozen tans, to blackened earth, to bright greens. The fragrance of freshness fills the air and the seasonal cycle continues.

 Prairie Management

Photo courtesy of Chris Helzer of thePrairieEcologist.com

Photo courtesy of Chris Helzer of thePrairieEcologist.com

Our design provides an infrastructure for educating and viewing these biologically-driven aesthetics throughout the seasons. It is a deliberate attempt to place campers and visitors within a prairie landscape where they otherwise would not venture. By utilizing natural local materials and minimalist constructions designed to allow uninterrupted natural views, we are paying respect to the landscape. Once visitors are able to learn more about the subtle beauties of the landscape, their admiration for it will unquestionably grow. This aesthetically attuned approach lends a hand in advancing environmental stewardship and conservation of this unique landscape.

Written by Phil Macaluso

 Carlson, A., & Lintott, S. (n.d.). Nature, Aesthetics, and Environmentalism. Retrieved February 12, 2016,                         from http://cup.columbia.edu/book/nature-aesthetics-and-environmentalism/9780231138864

 

Parsons, G. (n.d.). The Aesthetics of Nature. Retrieved February 12, 2016, from

                http://www.academia.edu/1111794/The_Aesthetics_of_Nature