March 20, 2017

Student-Designed Education Stations Dot the Kansas Prairie

For Camp Wood YMCA in Elmdale, Kansas, graduate-level architecture students at Kansas State University designed and built the Preston Outdoor Education Station, actually a series of five stations. Photography by Mike Sinclair.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous novel Little House on the Prairie took place in the 1870’s, when grassland stretched from North Dakota to Texas. Only 4 percent of that ecosystem remains today, and it’s considered one of the most endangered in North America. In Elmdale, Kansas, the home of Camp Wood YMCA, which provides year-round outdoor education for kids, prairie still covers 11,000 acres.

The first one, Gathering Station, in dry-stacked limestone, galvanized steel, and charred cedar. Photography by Mike Sinclair.

For the centennial of Camp Wood, it teamed up with Kansas State University’s graduate-level Design + Make Studio to build the Preston Outdoor Education Station. Design + Make was co-founded by David Dowell, also principal of the architecture firm El Dorado, with a mission to take on pro bono projects that contribute to the community, typically nonprofit organizations. For the camp, Dowell oversaw the creation of a 1,300-foot-long trail connecting different learning stations that engage directly with nature. The first one, Gathering Station, is built into a slope, with a dry-stacked limestone wall extending along one side of the trail. Another, Sky Station, simply a round platform of charred-cedar planks, invites children to lie on their backs and look upward, into infinity. 

Grass Station, also in weathering steel with crushed-limestone paving. Photography by Mike Sinclair.

> See more from the February 2017 issue of Interior Design

The charred-cedar decking of Sky Station. Photography by Mike Sinclair.
For Sky Station, signage in CNC-cut aluminum and weathering steel. Photography by Mike Sinclair.

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