PRESTON OUTDOOR EDUCATION STATION | 2015/2016 KSU DESIGN+MAKE STUDIO
AWARDS 2017 AZURE AZ AWARDS A+ STUDENT AWARD WINNING PROJECT
Preston Outdoor Education Station is part of YMCA’s Camp Wood, located west of Cottonwood Falls, KS, in the heart of the Tallgrass Prairie. Stretching from southern Nebraska to central Oklahoma in a fifty-mile wide vertical band, this landscape represents 4% of the original Tallgrass Prairie and is considered one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Camp Wood celebrated its Centennial anniversary in 2016, cementing its legacy of high quality outdoor education for youth throughout Kansas. The graduate level Design+Make Studio at Kansas State University was asked to develop an infrastructural backdrop to assist counselors in their work of connecting young people to this beautiful, yet subtle landscape. The two requirements for the project were: 1) the project must survive the annual prairie burns and 2) the work must disappear into the landscape.
The fall semester was spent understanding the complexities of the client and opportunities of the site, responding iteratively with a range of design ideas. Students also engaged in a methodical process acquiring the skills necessary to execute the project, learning welding, carpentry and traditional limestone masonry. The studio used the spring to assemble drawings, prototypes, pricing and to execute the project itself. Students took full advantage of an integrated design-build model to allow refinements to the design in response to field conditions and a never-ending process of rethinking improvements to the design.
What began as a simple shade structure evolved into a flexible, programmable experiential backdrop, 1,300 linear feet of trail system integrated into the site with five education stations along the way designed to connect visitors to the immediate landscape. The pathway begins with a 300-linear foot dry stacked limestone wall. Each station engages the environment and locally-sourced materials to focus on essential elements of the prairie – insects, wind, stone, grass, and sky. Managing an all-inclusive budget of $150,000, including professional consulting and subcontracted work, the project was completed by August of 2016, and has already seen a considerable increase in camp activity and engagement.
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