Page E1.1 . 26 June 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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Restoring the Giant Forest

by Kim A. O'Connell

The notion that architecture should fit the vernacular of its surroundings did not begin in U.S. national parks, but few other architectural styles seem to sit as comfortably in the landscape as the "national park rustic" style.

Sturdy log walls, wood-shingled roofs with generous overhangs, and rustic stone masonry form the basis of a design vocabulary that has extended from lodges to bridges, parkways, and other park facilities. However, buildings in this style are not necessarily as benign toward the surrounding natural environment as they may appear.

In 1928, architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood brought the style to Sequoia National Park in California, designing a log building to serve as a market. The structure was the centerpiece of a large visitor and staff compound located in the park's "Giant Forest" of lofty sequoias.

Although the building's heavy timber and exposed frame were classic rustic elements, the building did not necessarily blend with the landscape. The compound as a whole sprawled horizontally but could not compete with the vertical scale of the surrounding trees, which can grow to over 250 feet (75 meters) in height.

Over the years, the human-built environment proved destructive. Vast parking areas had compacted the sequoia root systems and hastened erosion. Furthermore, nearly 300 park buildings encroached on the forest, and human needs had taken precedence. Whenever a massive sequoia tree or branch threatened to fall on a structure, the tree was cut down.   >>>

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The "Sentinel Tree" and museum of Sequoia National Park, California. The museum and park have both been recently restored.
Photo: National Park Service

ArchWeek Image

In 1950, the park's market, now the Giant Forest Museum, suffered vehicular congestion. The buildings and parking lots damaged the root systems of the surrounding sequoia.
Photo: National Park Service

 

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