Design+Build Studio // Fall 2008 // Steel + Concrete + Wood // 13 weeks
To be evocative requires achieving a subtle sense of harmony between the design and the symbols it draws inspiration from.
Our studio was commissioned by the KU Ecological Reserves to create the first of a series of public viewpoints that would showcase the beauty of the natural prairie and surrounding landscape, and is meant especially as a place for school field trips. The design put an emphasis on low costs, recycled materials and ease of maintenance. The structure takes cues from its surroundings, subtly emulating the natural forms around it; the bench becoming the waving tallgrass, the deck acting as an extension of the bluff that it rests on, and the railing as a defined horizon line.
Providing a platform for experiencing the beauty and serenity of the natural Kansas landscape, this structure acts as both an escape into nature and a platform upon which the client can educate the public. The overlook’s deck surface, which is prominently cantilevered over the edge of a bluff, is comprised of a grid of steel structure and smaller Unistrut frames, each of which supports a varied pattern of recycled wood planks. Due to the distance away from any major roads and power sources, the structure was designed to be heavily modular, broken into separate bays that could fit onto a trailer for transport and built with a generator.
The wood decking, which was reclaimed from old telephone poles, is separated into small, similarly-sized panels that can be easily removed and carried by a pair of workers, allowing them to be repaired quickly and efficiently. Considering the prominent cantilever over the bluff and possible number of occupants, we designed the deck to be three to four times stronger than was structurally necessary through a combination of concrete and steel construction methods. A large focus of the studio was learning the various skills necessary, such as welding, woodworking and pouring concrete.
The Overlook was only the first step in a varied series of projects at the KU Ecological Reserves, all intended to draw the public to this beautiful site and educate the public on the many benefits of the native prairie.