Submitted by Mert Kansu
'Leave No Trace!' Says Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center
United States Architecture News - May 18, 2020 - 12:55 2290 views
Time is ever-present in the landscape of Cottonwood Canyon. Geologic time is marked by the passage of water and wind on the walls of the canyon. Historic barns dot the meadows along the John Day River, serving as historians to the importance of agrarian industry past and present.
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, established in 2013, is Oregon’s second-largest state park with over 8,000 acres. Before the Park’s founding, the land was privately owned for decades with limited public access. The park was established as a monument to the outdoor experience and as a gateway to the natural habitats and wildlife, which can only be found in this unexplored territory of Oregon. Cottonwood Canyon State Park is a destination, unlike Oregon’s other parks that act as entry points to beaches or public waterways. It’s the only park in Oregon with an unprecedented amount of wildlife and unrestricted access to the John Day River.
Oregon State Parks wanted to create a unique recreation experience that aligns with the scale of the landscape. The parks department brought on Walker Macy to do the master plan, which includes six cabins, a shower/bath facility, and a central anchoring element—Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center.
The rugged and fragile landscape, rich in both history and texture, required a structure that complemented its surroundings. Our site-specific approach prioritizes the story of the place and the language of the landscape.
The 1,500-square-foot building references the ranch vernacular of the region with shaded outdoor space, windbreaks, wood stove hearth, and walkways connecting to camping and cabin sites. The durable structure complements the historic barns that dot the meadows along the John Day River and serve as a symbolic reminder of the agrarian industry past and present.
The building is placed on the site, so outdoor gathering spaces are shielded from heavy winds, afternoon sun, and weather to make the space more conducive to outdoor education. Shaded outdoor area allows the building to double in size, providing outdoor workspace for summer institutes and research programming focused on Cottonwood Canyon and the John Day River.
Interior spaces are configured to allow for maximum adaptability. A ‘heavy wall’ provides for storage of programming carts, exhibits, library media, and environmental education tools while a weather-protected, open side of the building lets indoor activities spill out to the meadow and beyond.
Approaching the building at night, visitors will notice a unique ribbon of light emanating from the building while the form is like barns of the region, with a slightly modern twist. The light signals that this place is different and that inspiration is happening there.
Similar to the resourcefulness of historic farm communities and ranches, the building takes its sustainability cues from a blend of site-specific, low-tech opportunities and current technology to save energy and stand the test of time. To shelter from prevailing winds, large doors are concentrated on the leeward side of the structure, with a Juniper shade arbor which protects against the direct sun. Juniper is a sustainable forest product that was sourced locally to support regional ecosystems and the economy. Opposing doors allow for cross ventilation and translucent roofing welcomes daylight, reducing daytime lighting demands. Durable exterior materials and a wood interior do not require repainting and age well, looking better with time.
Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center provides an opportunity for outdoor learning, regional activities, environmental education, and cultural events that serve the community, the region, and state park visitors from across Oregon and the region. The multi-use facility will contribute to the community experience by providing classroom space, interpretive displays, activity and meeting areas, park-specific library, and gathering space for events. Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center will serve Oregon State Parks as a capstone gathering place amongst the rich scenic landscape of Central Oregon, connecting stories of history with programming and learning experiences for future generations.
Architects: SIGNAL | Architecture + Research
Location: Wasco, United States
Area: 1500 m²
Manufacturers: Clopay, Taylor Metal Products, Blaze King, Juniper Design, Richards Wilcox
Lead Architects: Mark Johnson
Client: Oregon State Parks
Engineering: Lund | Opsahl
Landscape: Walker | Macy
Solar: Sunbridge Solar
General Contractor: Tapani Construction
All Photographs © Gabe Border
The images © SIGNAL | Architecture + Research