Once again our minds have retreated to the Flint Hills. There, as we speak, icy winds are whipping through rust-colored grasses and brand-new buildings are emerging from the frozen ground. We have two projects under construction in the region, thoughtfully named the Flint Hills Residence I and the Flint Hills Residence II. We’re just starting another, a renovation of a long-abandoned historic structure.
On a ranch outside of Alma, Kansas, steel and wood framing are up at Flint Hills Residence I. The four pitched-roof sections are visible, as are the steel walkways that connect them. Each wing has a changing relationship to the landscape, at times following it, rising out of it, or sinking into it. Construction is scheduled to be finished in the fall, and under site supervision of a very fine man named Cowboy, we trust we’ll be happy with the end result.
The Flint Hills Residence II takes its cue from the original Monopoly-hotel-shaped structure on the site. Dating back to 1898, the old building’s 12″ thick limestone walls and punched windows will stand in stark contrast to the new building’s charred-cedar clad walls and broad swaths of glass. The new window openings are strategically positioned to let the landscape enter the structure and the two buildings are linked by a glass breezeway with a program nebulously called “space.” The project is a hybrid of new construction and renovation. It’s a reminder that old and new can coexist in one singular experience, especially when tied together by a unique landscape.
Twelve winding miles away in Volland, Kansas, we’re beginning the restoration of the Kratzer Bros. Department Store. To call Volland a ghost town would be inaccurate. Doing so would imply that the ghosts had stuck around. Volland was a cattle shipping point along the Rock Island Railroad, not too big in its heyday, but definitely bustling. The two-story general store, built in 1913, is one of the few structures that remains, and even that is just a brick shell. The original masonry walls and wood windows are mostly intact, but the floors and roof caved in long ago. Once the building is shored and stabilized, local craftsmen will clean out the debris inside and we’ll transform it into an open-plan event space. Maybe then the ghosts will come back and join the party.
You too can experience the Flint Hills, without the wind chill, frostbite or specters. Go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, itself a complimentary pairing of old and new structures, joined by a stellar landscape. Walk to the lowest lens of the Bloch Building, and visit Heartland, a retrospective of Terry Evans’ landscape photography. Terry Evans is a Kansas City native who resides in Chicago. She photographs people and places, cities and countryside, from the air and from the ground, all in an exploration of the relationship between the land and the way we live. Heartland features 100 photographs spanning the entirety of Evans’ career, from 1971 to her most recent project documenting the Flint Hills town of Matfield Green, KS, and the landscape surrounding it. You must go see this exhibition, and do it quickly. Heartland closes on Sunday, January 27th.