Grand Teton Visitor Center
They are guided through a carefully constructed path of exhibits that introduces them to the park and tunes their senses to what they will experience during their visit, as long as they simply slow down and experience the amazing natural environment that is Grand Teton National Park.
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Peter Bohlin and the Bohlin Cywinski Jackson team presented an extraordinary blend of modern and traditional materials. They used concrete and glass, with massive logs from a sustainable forest in British Columbia and thick cedar siding with exposed bolt fasteners. We got a commitment from the National Park Service to let the wood weather instead of staining it dark brown, as has happened with so many park log buildings. In time, the building will attain the weathered, silver patina of wood barns in the West.
Time will tell whether we succeeded in our goal to create a new language for Western park architecture. We aimed high, took risks, fought for what we believed, and, if early reactions are any indication, created something extraordinary. A combination of circumstances, timing, and talent has left a legacy for many generations.
To really experience the building's grandeur and details, one must see it in person. Leave your car behind and walk the winding path from the parking lot to the building. Touch the smooth granite boulders in the elegant courtyard. Walk through the door and stand in awe at this masterful blend of building and sky and nature. Take your kids and grandkids. You'll never see the park the same way again. And that is exactly what we intended.
Commentary by Tom Kundig
I have lived most of my life in the western states, and the reality of the West's nature is my touchstone. From its deserts to its deep forests and radical topography, it is a landscape of extremes. When I first visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I was stunned by how the landscape conspires to tell its story, as few places on earth do. You can see the geologic forces that pushed the ragged plates into sharp mountains and detect the passage of time through the erosion and hydrology of the flat river bottom valley.
For me, great architecture is the intersection of function and utility with the poetic expression of a meaningful and true story. It is something more than simple entertainment. A significant building reflects the time in which it is built and, and the same time, transcends it.
The tectonics of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center are identifiable and articulate the true nature of materials, as well as the natural forces of structural realities. In true Modernist spirit, the forces of the building follow a logic through line and structural intersections into structure/ buildable assemblies that leave nothing to artifice or indulgence. The building enthusiastically accepts the nature of its materials, gravity, and assembly.
The building embraces its location through its organization; the primary visitor space crescendos to the expansive view and the big sky, while a courtyard formed by the arms of the building creates a welcome refuge from the wild landscape beyond it. Equally deft is the handling of the building's sectional properties, which subtly recall the valley's rich topography formed as a result of geophysical action, the flat valley bottom, and the upward thrusts of the Teton Range.
The visitor center is a masterful work by a master architect. It interprets and celebrates the nature of Jackson Hole, while it recognizes and acknowledges our ephemeral place in this landscape. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson uses the tools of architecture — structure, materials, sequence, and space — to tell this compelling story.
It is a building for all of us. In celebrating our relationship to this landscape, it reminds us that we are but one small player in the larger world.
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Edward Riddell is a landscape photographer and a founding member of the board of trustees of Grand Teton National Park Foundation.
Tom Kundig, FAIA, is a principal of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects in Seattle, Washington.
This article is excerpted from Grand Teton: A National Park Building by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, ORO Editions.
Project: Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center (Moose, Wyoming)
Client: National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation, Grand Teton Association
Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (Peter Q. Bohlin, FAIA, design principal; Raymond S. Calabro, AIA, senior associate, project manager; David C. Miller, project architect)
Interpretive Design: Ralph Applebaum Associates
Structural Engineering: Beaudette Consulting Engineers, Inc.
MEP Engineering: Gordon Prill Drapes, Inc.
Lighting Design: Renfro Design Group, Inc.
Landscape Architecture: Swift Company
Acoustical Engineers: The Greenbusch Group
Cost Estimating: Davis Langdon
Civil Engineering & Surveying: Nelson Engineering
Snow Country Design: Matrix IMA
General Contractor: Intermountain Construction & Materials, Inc.