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Looking at the Whole Picture: Alma, KS // Lauren Harness


Understanding the most fitting solution to Alma Kansas’ lack of shade for their city pool meant stepping back and taking an in depth look at Alma as a community. We spent time researching the history and development of Alma as well as contextual influences such as climate, community values, and connectivity. Collectively this process of understanding has led to the studio moving forward with the implementation of a shade structure that aims to serve more than one role for the park as a whole. When completed the structure will be multi-functional and will activate an underutilized portion of the park for year round community engagement. The details and language of the shade pavilion aspire to create a dialogue with the existing structure and spur future park improvements.


Interaction is necessary in order to be responsive to social context and gain the trust of the client and town as a whole. With open community meetings and outreach we met many of the residents of the town and received helpful input on how to maximize the structure. This interchange led to an understanding of place that would have been hard or impossible to learn from research or simply visiting the site. As an example we talked to families and individuals who use the park on a regular basis to find out what areas are the most functional. From these discussions we assessed that although the south end of the park was large and open it wasn’t thought of as usable space. We added activating this space this to our list of desired goals we hoped to achieve with our proposal.

When working in a small town the time spent gaining understanding is important in order to create lasting architecture that best serves the users and community.  The lengthy understanding period for the Alma Park and Pool shade structure represents an important process that has changed in the world of architecture as technology and globalization have maximized the efficiency and outreach of design firms. Using design to celebrate what makes Alma unique and create a space that complements the identity of the town is a practice that lays an important foundation for any future design problems we may face. Looking at the whole picture for this project meant understanding the structures’ role in future and past development, building relationships with the community, and understanding the importance of the community as a whole.


Thinking through the life span of the structure meant looking back on past city and park development as well as understanding the potential evolution of the space. The idea of an enduring Alma lead to the design of a master plan, with the potential to be implemented through phases. This intention also regulated everything down to the smallest details as we aim to build a structure that will withstand time and weather.


Alma Masterplan with zones to be implemented through phases.

A community wide meeting was held to choose the final direction of the design. This meeting was one of many held to gather community input and gain support.

All of our time spent in Alma ultimately led to our own appraisal and understanding of the town’s role today and in the future.  Thinking to the future of Alma reveals the potential for Alma grow and become less self- contained. Alma has increasingly expanded to serve as a bedroom community for nearby economic centers like Manhattan and Topeka. Thinking through the park programmatically includes analyzing potential for increased population and usage. Focusing on improvements that have the potential to improve quality of life allows Alma to continue to serve as a cherished home and carry forward as a vital gateway to the flint hills.


Many projects in the professional world do not have the luxury of spending months getting to know a place. As project deadlines are shortened and budgets restricted it is still a valuable practice for designers to put time and effort into understanding the locality in order to maximize the potential of a design to best serve user and place. 

Written by Lauren Harness

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