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Preserving Architectural Character // Amber Summers


Volland Sunset

Photo by: Karl Ndieli

Abstract: Small towns throughout America are in a state of decline in general, however the ones that are withstanding and growing have a community that supports and is invested in the survival/revival of the town. Maintaining continual progress and growth in these towns is necessary for their longevity but attention needs to be placed on properly preserving the architectural character of the place.
Audience:  Architecture students who are interested in the importance and intricacies of preserving an historical building, as well as the community that has rallied around Volland and truly appreciates the character of the location.

"Preserving Architectural Character"


According to David L. Brown in Rural People and Communities in the 21st Century: Resilience and Transformation, small towns across america are decreasing in population and progress at a steady rate. There has been a decline in progress and development in rural towns which is harmful to their resilience in an urban dominated society. Rural America represents just about 14 percent of the national population, rural America also accounts for the vast majority of the U.S. landmass.


These big spaces, and big distances, can mean large challenges in the delivery of health care, social services, and quality elementary and secondary education that helps stabilize populations and attract new residents. Population decline and job loss have devastated rural communities on a national scale. One driving factor that is weakening these areas is a lack of progress and interest in innovative ways to distinguish the towns as unique places.


With there being so many growing hardships of living in small towns there is still hope. The small towns that can defy the statistics and remain standing and thriving will all have one important factor in common. There needs to be an interest in the local community to move forward while still maintaining the integrity of their homes and towns as a whole. Volland is no exception to this.


There is a unique quality to the town itself that draws people to it and makes them want to continually return and to be further inspired and connected. There is also significant appreciation and care given to the elements that make up the town itself. The structures that exist on the site have withstood time and all bring their unique stories to the town’s character. There is a common goal throughout the community to evolve this place in a sensible manner. The history that exists, even if unknown, makes up the allure of the place and makes it special.

Volland from the air

Upon going to Volland for the first time the general studio consensus was a sense of confusion. Why are we out here? Where are we? Is this place relevant? This feeling lasted through our entire first site visit, however this opinion has completely flipped since that moment. After hearing multiple people speak of their impressions of the place and spending more time out there the connection grew stronger to the location.  


For me personally, the first time the town resonated with me was when I interviewed Patty Reece about her life and her connection to the place. Hearing the story of how she found the town and a passion for the area and community was when I began to understand the area and my perception started to change from confusion to appreciation.


Volland is an extremely unique place with a lot of potential that is very exciting once it is discovered. Everyone that goes out there feels a sense of connection to the landscape and to the oddities that the town has to offer.  There is a confusion as to why there is red brick in the Flint Hills, why the store faces away from the street, and why there is still life and energy in this isolated area.

The studio explores Volland for the first time

It would be easy to go into a place like Volland and want to build an entirely new structure that serves artists and their creative visions. With there being such a draw for the artist community there would be an appreciation on some end for a new contemporary structure that would be unique and put Volland on the map even more. However, people are so immensely drawn to Volland as it is that creating a new building could create visual conflict.


The connection and nostalgia for every element of the town pointed us in a clear direction. The energy of the studio went towards trying to revitalize and reuse one of the houses that is already contributing to the architectural character of Volland. Preservation and restoration play a largely cultural role, being able to interpret the existing visual character and selectively intervene with moves that are appropriate to the space requires a close attention to small scale details as well as an awareness of larger scale town character.


Old buildings teach the public about the history of what happened before we were arrived and promotes the respect for those who lived in different times and different circumstances. Historic structures cultivate pride of the past and heritage making that place unique in the world.

House no. 1

Photo by: Karl Ndieli

The traditional architecture of Volland largely provides the spirit and character of Volland as a whole. Early on in the design process there was a strong desire to maintain the exterior of the house as much as possible. There is such an appreciation for the formal characteristics of the house’s visual language.


The decision of designing the northern house was partially due to the reasonable scope of work required and partially due to the formal characteristics and aesthetics of the house itself. This house is the first building visible when entering Volland and in vital to the overall composition and feeling of the town.


Really pushing the design decision to preserve the exterior of the structure will allow for progress to happen in the community without taking away any of the connection and character of the town. After discovering the unique attributes of Volland and learning to truly appreciate it, the studio is moving forward to bring the right design to this place.

Client meeting discussing scale of spaces

Written by Amber Summers

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