Late this summer, the last piece of the Preston Outdoor Education Station at YMCA’s Camp Wood was completed and installed on site by a few of the 2015-2016 KSU Design+Make Studio students. The camp is located west of Cottonwood Falls, KS, in the heart of the tallgrass prairie.
The site is close to the National Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, the only park devoted exclusively to this type of landscape. The tallgrass prairie stretches from southern Nebraska to central Oklahoma in a fifty-mile wide vertical band. Due to its specific geology and the presence of abundant surface rocks the land is difficult to develop and farm. It represents 4% of the original tallgrass prairie and is considered to be 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 the state of Kansas. The Design+Make Studio was asked to develop an infrastructural backdrop to assist counselors in their work of connecting young people to this beautiful, yet subtle landscape.
Throughout the fall semester the studio got to know the prairie and the client. The students also began the process of acquiring the skills necessary to execute the project. They learned traditional limestone masonry, welding and carpentry. In the college’s shop, they familiarized themselves with the range of tools available to them: digital fabrication equipment as well as traditional tools. They forged relationships with a number of skilled craftspeople familiar with the camp.
At the end of the fall semester, two different approaches were presented for consideration to implement. One gathered counselors and campers in a centralized space where teaching could happen in an environment slightly removed from the prairie. The other presented a linear pathway of stations, each focused on a different attribute of the landscape: wind, flora, fauna, geology and atmosphere. Camp Wood Director Ken Wold and his staff felt that both approaches were worth pursuing, so the studio consolidated their work into a unified whole.
The Spring Semester focused on field construction, shop work and coordination with a host of subcontractors and suppliers. Although a complete design was required before construction could commence, including input from structural and civil engineers, the 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.
The students managed an all-inclusive budget of $150,000, including professional consulting and subcontracted work. The majority of the project was completed by graduation in May 2016, though a few loose ends were completed later in the summer by the students. In the final evaluation the work was successful in meeting Camp Director Ken Wold’s two sole requirements for success: 1) that the work disappear into the landscape, and 2) that the work help people fall in love with the place.
Students involved in this Design+Make Studio include: Torrence Campbell, Tamra Collins, Luke Custer, AJ Henry, Brent Higgins, Daniel Johnson, Phil Macaluso, Alex Martinez, Kelsey Middelkamp, Jake Rose, Brianna Reece, Sevrin Scarcelli and Blake Toews.