DESIGN PRINCIPLES FOR SITE DEVELOPMENT IN OUR
NATIONAL PARKS BASED UPON HISTORIC PRECEDENTS AND
B.L.A., University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2005
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Landscape Architecture (M.L.A.)
by Sandy Low
All rights reserved
This thesis for Master of Landscape Architecture (M.L.A.)
has been approved
A. Sayre Hutchison
OS O'?. Z.00 1
Low, Sandy (M.L.A., Master of Landscape Architecture)
Design Principles for Site Development in Our National Parks Based Upon
Historic Precedents and Current Needs
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Ann Komara
The National Park System represents the most significant of the
landscapes of the United States. They may be significant for their
majestic scenery, incredible geological formations, remains of ancient
cultures, or through being iconic milestones in the history of the United
The two historic major building programs, Rustic Era and Mission
66 Era, helped to shape the development of the built environment in the
National Parks. Case studies representative of projects from those Eras
were conducted to learn from the principles and practices used by
designers during those periods.
Today, there is no one standard or design philosophy for
development in the National Parks. There is no consistency of approach
to construction among individual park units. Some projects are exemplary
and some are out of scale, out of place, and out of touch. New system-
wide design principles are needed to protect our greatest national
treasures and to provide for improved visitor experiences. New design
principles must respect the historic integrity of each site, and provide for
visitor interpretation, but most importantly they need to protect and
preserve those resources that resulted in the original establishment of the
The Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. Now is
the ideal time to develop a set of design principles for system-wide
implementation to provide a consistent approach to projects being sited
and built in the National Parks during this centennial period. In 2009,
Congress designated economic stimulus funds for Park Service use,
providing a unique opportunity to design and construct needed projects
within the Parks, and concurrently implement a consistent set of
A proposed new set of principles has been developed. They are
based on research of the mission statement and goals of the Park
Service, and an analysis of the historic precedents of the Rustic Era and
the Mission 66 Era. The design characteristics of these Eras, in
combination with the current needs of the parks, have been used to
formulate the set of draft principles. These proposed principles have been
illustrated through their application to the Painted Desert Complex, in
Petrified Forest National Park.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my husband, Jim Low, who has been my
cheering section for each of the wild and strange adventures that I have
embarked on. I wish to thank my parents, Fred and Dorothy Stumbo; my
mother for putting poetry in my soul, and my father for giving me his
drafting tools. I also dedicate this thesis to the other Low women: Kirstie,
Karen, Meg, Emma, and Kara.
I wish to offer my heartfelt thanks to my advisor, Ann Komara, for her
enthusiasm, contribution, and support of my research. I wish to thank
Sayre Hutchison for providing insight into the workings of the National
Park Service. I also wish to thank Lori Catalano for her valuable
participation and insights. In addition I wish to thank the Brandeis Family
for the Thesis Scholarship in Landscape Architecture, and Doug Walter for
the Doug Walter Architects Award in Historic Preservation.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Figures .....................................ix
2. NATIONAL PARKS THE MONUMENTS OF THE UNITED
3. RUSTIC DESIGN/PARKITECTURE.....................21
Rustic Design Case Study: Herbert Maiers Yellowstone
4. MISSION 66 MODERN IN A RUSTIC WORLD..........50
Mission 66 Case Study: Richard Neutras Painted Desert
5. MODERN PARKITECTURE............................90
Out of Scale, Out of Place, Out of Touch..96
A. SITE DEVELOPMENT IN NATIONAL PARKS -
B. DESIGN RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PAINTED DESERT
COMPLEX, PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK... 132
LIST OF FIGURES
2.1 Grand Teton National Park Sublime Scenery.....................4
2.2 Colorado National Monument Geological Wonders.................5
2.3 Canyon de Chelly National Monument Ancient Cultures...........6
2.4 Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park..................7
2.5 Roosevelt Arch, Yellowstone National Park.......................9
2.6 Stephen Mather Plaque, Yellowstone.............................10
2.7 Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park...................11
2.8 Advertising Poster for the Atchison,
Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad....................................12
2.9 Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park......................13
2.10 Desert Watchtower, Designed by Mary Jane Colter,
Grand Canyon National Park....................................14
2.11 C. A. Hamilton in Front of His Rustic Style Old Faithful Store,
Yellowstone National Park.....................................15
3.1 Old Faithful Museum, Yellowstone National Park.................28
3.2 Madison Museum random sized flagstones contribute to the
3.3 Madison Museum a heavy door with iron hardware is in keeping
with the scale of building....................................31
3.4 Madison Museum - blends into the environment...............32
3.5 Madison Museum - steps down with the topography............32
3.6 Madison Museum - front elevation...........................33
3.7 Madison Museum - all elevations have a finished look.......33
3.8 Madison Museum - natural weathering adds to the character..34
3.9 Madison Museum - viewing platform at rear of the museum....34
3.10 Madison Museum - view of the valley from the museum........35
3.11 Norris Museum sign above the breezeway.......................38
3.12 Norris Museum log brackets add a decorative touch............38
3.13 Norris Museum raised-tie scissor trusses support the gable...39
3.14 Norris Museum the foundation is rough stone..................39
3.15 Norris Museum a viewing platform extends out from the
3.16 Norris Museum pine trees block the view......................40
3.17 Norris Museum a pathway leads away from the museum...........41
3.18 Fishing Bridge Museum large stone pillars create an entry....42
3.19 Fishing Bridge Museum interpretative signage.................43
3.20 Fishing Bridge Museum front elevation........................44
3.21 Fishing Bridge Museum random sized boulders were used
for the rough stone chimney...................................45
3.22 Fishing Bridge Museum roof overhang..........................46
3.23 Fishing Bridge Museum rear elevation.........................46
3.24 Fishing Bridge Museum a compass-rose is etched in the
3.25 Fishing Bridge Museum -
a pathway leads from the back terrace.......................47
3.26 Fishing Bridge Museum a viewing platform with a bench allows
3.27 Fishing Bridge Museum view of Yellowstone Lake from the
4.1 Increased visitation led to crowded parks....................51
4.2 Jackson Lake Lodge...........................................55
4.3 Richard Neutras Cyclorama Visitor Center....................59
4.4 Saint Marys Visitor Center, Glacier National Park...........60
4.5 In Yellowstone a cloverleaf Interchange......................61
4.6 Cecil Doty designed The Book Cliff Overlook..................63
4.7 Headquarters Building in Rocky Mountain National Park........64
4.8 Rainbow Forest Visitor Center/Museum.........................71
4.9 Rainbow Forest Visitor Center/Museum Display.................72
4.10 Painted Desert Inn Museum....................................73
4.11 Painted Desert Inn layers of history.......................74
4.12 The Painted Desert Complex...................................75
4.13 Painted Desert Complex overhangs provide shade.............76
4.14 The Visitor Center, Painted Desert Complex...................77
4.15 Painted Desert Complex Plan..................................78
4.16 The Central Plaza.............................................79
4.17 Large windows in Visitor Center...............................80
4.18 The Central Plaza envisioned as an oasis....................84
4.19 The Second Plaza..............................................85
5.1 New Pavilion in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore..............92
5.2 Field Station at Capitol Reef National Park...................93
5.3 Zion National Park Visitor Center blends into its surroundings.95
5.4 Energy saving feature of Zion National Park Visitor Center....96
5.5 Canyon Village Mission 66 Visitor Center......................98
5.6 Canyon Village Visitor Center demolition......................98
5.7 The New Canyon Village Education Center.......................99
5.8 The New Visitor Center dominates the site...................100
5.9 A large impressive window looks out over the parking lot....100
5.10 The Justice Center at Mammoth Hot Springs..................102
5.11 The Justice Center seems out of place........................102
5.12 The Mission 66 Visitor Center................................103
5.13 Construction of the new Visitor Center at Old Faithful......106
5.14 The red steel framing indicates the location of the new
5.15 Construction on the Visitor Center continues through the
5.16 Rendering of Old Faithful Visitor Education Center............18
5.17 Old Faithful Area circulation patterns........................113
A.1 Rocky Mountain National Park..................................114
A.2 Cuyahoga Valley National Park.................................115
A.3 Glacier National Park.........................................115
A.4 Arches National Park..........................................115
A.5 Going To The Sun Road.........................................116
A.6 Desert Watchtower.............................................116
A.7 Wupatki National Monument.....................................117
A.8 Petroglyphs, Lake Mead National Recreation Area...............117
A.9 Rim Rock Drive................................................119
A. 10 El Tovar......................................................120
A.11 Glacier National Park.........................................121
A. 12 Zion Visitor Center...........................................122
A. 13 Green features of the Visitor Center........................122
A. 14 Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore..............................123
A.15 Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park........................124
A. 16 John Muir Lodge...............................................125
A.17 Bookcliff Overlook............................................126
A. 18 Construction of the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.... 127
A. 19 Interior of Old Faithful Inn..................................128
A.20 Lake Hamilton Store...........................................129
A.21 Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.........................130
A. 22 Historic Bus...................................................131
B. 1 Painted Desert Complex.........................................132
B.2 Low profile of Complex.........................................134
B.3 Gift Shop windows overlook the courtyard ......................135
B.4 Sign attached to Gift Shop wall ...............................135
B.5 Interior of Gift Shop .........................................135
B.6 Central Courtyard .............................................136
B.7 Fountain in Courtyard .........................................136
B.8 Drain in center of the Courtyard ..............................136
B.9 Added features in Courtyard....................................137
B.10 Second Courtyard with scattered plantings......................137
B.11 Raised mound in the center of second Courtyard.................137
B.12 Current paint scheme...........................................138
B.13 Historic paint scheme..........................................138
B.14 Painted Desert Complex public and private spaces...............140
B.15 The Painted Desert Complex barely visible from a distance...141
B.16 Central Courtyard Planting Plan................................142
B.17 Sculpture in central Courtyard.................................143
B.18 Modern material and design is more appropriate to a
Mission 66 site than natural materials.......................143
B.19 Neutra envisioned an interpretive space.........................144
B.20 The National Register Plaque....................................145
B.21 Historic photograph altered.....................................146
B.22 Desert Sunray...................................................146
B.22 Historic buses could be used to shuttle visitors
through the Park................................................147
At present there is no one set of system-wide design principles for
construction projects that are being developed within the national parks.
There is no consistency of approach to construction among the individual
park units. Historically the National Park Service used a set of design
principles for construction activities during the two major building periods:
the Rustic Era and the Mission 66 Era. Development of a new set of
system-wide principles that can be used in the creation of a new building
era will help protect our greatest national treasures, improve quality, and
provide for an improved visitor experience. Park administrators, regional
project managers, and the contractors hired to design and build structures
in National Parks will find standard principles helpful in planning,
maintaining, and designing new projects.
As of April, 2009, there are 391 units within the National Park
Service, representing the most significant landscapes of the United States.
They are located throughout the fifty states, and each unit was established
for a specific reason. They may be significant for their majestic scenery,
incredible geological formations, remnants of ancient cultures, and as
iconic milestones in the history of the United States. There are over
19,453 historically documented buildings, ruins, designed landscapes,
roads, trails, bridges, and other structures listed on the National Park
Service List of Classified Structures database, and more continue to be
Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, was the first
national park, but it was not until 1916, that the National Park Service was
established as part of the Department of the Interior. The Park Service
celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. Now is an ideal time to develop a
set of design principles for system-wide implementation so that there will
be a consistent approach to what is being sited and built in the National
Parks during this centennial period. In 2009, Congress designated
economic stimulus funds to be used by the Park Service, providing a
unique opportunity to build needed facilities within the Parks, and to
implement the new design principles.
New principles can be developed and adopted that are based on a
research of the mission statement and goals of the Park Service, and
through an analysis of the historic precedents of the Rustic Era and the
Mission 66 Era. The design characteristics of these eras, together with
the current needs of the parks, will be used to formulate a set of draft
principles. These proposed principles will be illustrated through their
application to the Painted Desert Complex, in Petrified Forest National
NATIONAL PARKS-THE MONUMENTS
OF THE UNITED STATES
As a young nation struggling to find an identity, the United States
did not possess any of the accepted European icons of history. There
were no towering castles or cathedrals, medieval towns or Roman ruins.
What the United States did have was an abundance of magnificent
scenery, breathtaking geological wonders, and fascinating remnants of
other ancient cultures, (see figures 2.1,2.2, and 2.3). As an appreciation
of landscape scenery was developed and encouraged by the artists,
poets, writers, and philosophers of the 19th century, visiting these natural
wonders became fashionable. The unique natural features also became
the focus of a crusade. One of the early crusaders was John Muir (1838 -
1914), a conservationist who lobbied to have scenic areas set aside and
protected in order to preserve them as unimpaired examples of
primeval landscapes.1 Muir became an evangelist for Yosemite and the
scenic areas of the West. Muir described the valleys of Yosemite as
immense halls or temples lighted from above.2 He described the
mountains as Gothic cathedrals.3 As the founder of the Sierra Club, Muir
lobbied untiringly to have wilderness areas set aside and protected from
1 Linda Flint McClelland, Building the National Parks, Historic Landscape Design
and Construction (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 9.
2 John Muir, The Mountains of California (New York: The Century Company,
3 Muir. The Mountains of California. 68.
developers. In working to protect Yosemite, he was assisted by
photographers who spread the fame of the sheer granite walls4
Figure 2.1 Grand Teton National Park is an example of magnificent scenery, photograph
by Sandy Low, 2007.
Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape
architecture, was another prominent individual who recognized the
necessity of preserving the scenic landscapes. Olmsted described the
importance of setting aside the entire Yosemite area as:
4 Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Landscape Design a Cultural and Architectural
History (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001), 372.
The union of the deepest sublimity with the deepest beauty
of nature, not in one feature or another, not in one part or
one scene or another, not any landscape that can be framed
by itself, but all around and wherever the visitor goes,
constitutes the Yo Semite the greatest glory of nature.5
Olmsted had long advocated the need for parks, and maintained that they
were a vehicle for improving society. Olmsteds vision for Yosemite was
one with as few artificial constructions as possible and a circular carriage
drive with turnouts placed to present the best opportunities for scenic
Figure 2.2 Colorado National Monument is an example of geological wonders,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
5 Witold Rybczynski, A Clearing in the Distance, Frederick Law Olmsted and
American in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Scribner, 1999),257.
6 Rogers, Landscape Design, 372.
Figure 2.3 Canyon de Chelly National Monument is an example of ancient cultures,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2003.
Though Yosemite was at the forefront of the debate with regard to
the preservation of wilderness, it was under the control of the State of
California and did not become a national park until 1906. Yellowstone
was established as the first national park in 1872 by an Act of Congress
signed by President Ulysses S. Grant (figure 2.4). Early Native Americans
had long walked upon this land, but it was early explorers who
discovered it. John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,
ventured into the area we now call Yellowstone. Colter, along with other
trappers and mountain men, returned with fantastic tales of plunging
waterfalls, mountains made of glass, an enormous gorge, and areas
where hot water bubbled up and spewed from the ground. The
abundance of large game
animals also made it a
Soon, official expeditions
came to the area to
investigate these tall
tales. Paul Schullery, an
historian of the western
United States, wrote:
The fantasy and
hyperbole of the mountain
men were superseded
(though never entirely
replaced) by the glowing,
emotional enthusiasm of
These reports caused
conservationists to call for
this entire area to be set aside and protected from those who would seek
to exploit such a magical place, but when Congress signed the Bill
creating the first national park, they did not take any measures to fund the
park. As a result, in the first decade following the creation of Yellowstone
National Park, conditions were characterized as chaotic. Poachers
slaughtered untold numbers of bison, elk and deer.
Figure 2.4 Yellowstone National Park was
established as the first national park in 1872,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
7 Paul Schullery, Searching for Yellowstone, Ecology and Wonder in the Last
Wilderness, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 55.
Unscrupulous concessioners set up their businesses where and how they
pleased, and tourists scrambled over, and carved their names in the very
natural features that had lured them to visit Wonderland in the first place.
In the absence of design principles, people built wherever, whatever, and
however they chose.
In 1886, the United States Army was assigned the mission of
protecting the new park and bringing order to the chaos. They set up their
headquarters, Fort Yellowstone, in the northwestern part of the Park near
the Mammoth Hot Springs. The Army Corps of Engineers began the
difficult task of building roads. Army Corps of Engineers Hiram
Chittenden (1959 -1917) described the challenges of road building in
The first difficulty arises from the wretched nature of the
material through which the roads pass. Unquestionably
there is no other spot of equal area on the face of the earth
where there is such a remarkable variety of substances, and
such curious combinations, in the composition of the soil.8
As other parks were established, the need for an agency to care for
and manage them became paramount. A conservationist, Stephen
Mather (1867-1930), and a lawyer, Horace Albright (1890- 1987), were
appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to formulate a plan that would
oversee the management of the parks. In 1916, the National Park Service
was established as part of the Department of the Interior. The National
Park Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Its mission
8 Schullery, Searching for Yellowstone, 115.
statement is referred to as the Organic Act. It mandates that the National
Conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects
and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of
the same in such manner and by such means as will leave
them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.9
President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the
Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone, on which would be inscribed the phrase
For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People, (figure 2.5).
Figure 2.5 Roosevelt Arch, Yellowstone National Park, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
9 William R. Lowry, The Capacity for Wonder, Preserving National Parks.
(Washington, D. C.: The Brookings Institution, 1994), 3.
This somewhat contradictory statement, indicating that the parks were to
be conserved yet be available for the peoples enjoyment has resulted in
many challenges (and interpretations) over the years. Nevertheless the
national park system is: ...a proud achievement of the American People
and has been a potent instrument in shaping the nations image of itself.10
Stephen Mather became the first director of the National Park
Service. Today, many of the parks have a bronze plaque, dedicated to
Stephen Mather, with this inscription:
He laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining
and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be
developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations.
There will never come an end to the good that he has done.
Figure 2.6 Stephen Mather Plaque, Yellowstone, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
10 Rogers, Landscape Design, 373.
Some of the early development in the national parks was carried
out by the transcontinental railroads. They built hotels to entice visitors
who were accustomed to vacationing in Europe, staying in comfortable
lodgings set amidst spectacular scenery. Many of the buildings that the
railroads built have become cultural icons, or symbols, of the park in which
they are located. For example, the Northern Pacific Railroad hired a
young architect named Robert Reamer (1873-1938) to design the iconic
Old Faithful Inn in 1903, in Yellowstone National Park (figure 2.7).
Figure 2. 7 Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, photograph courtesy National
Park Service Historic Photography Collection, 1922.
In 1905, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad hired architect Charles
Whittlesey (1868 1941) to design a hotel that was named El Tovar, in
honor of an early Spanish explorer. As there were no design principles
the hotel was sited only twenty feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon.
The railroad would use travel posters to promote the hotel and the Grand
Canyon (figure 2.8).
Figure 2.8 Advertising poster for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, photograph
courtesy National Park Service Historic Photography Collection, 1910.
In 1914, the Great Northern/Burlington Northern Railroad
commissioned a series of lodges and hotels in Glacier National Park in
northern Montana. These buildings have a distinctly Swiss-Alps feel and
have come to represent Glacier, (figure 2.9).
Figure 2.9 Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, photograph courtesy of National
Park Service List of Classified Structures, 1994.
National Park concessioners also hired architects to design
buildings to house restaurants and souvenir stores. The Fred Harvey
Company hired Mary Jane Colter (1869 1958) as architect, designer,
and decorator. Colter designed buildings in the Grand Canyon (figure
2.10) that were intended to look as old as the canyon itself, resembling
ancient structures left by the tribes that inhabited the region long before
Columbus.11 Colters use of local materials set a precedent for the Rustic
Era and in essence developed a set of self-imposed design principles.
Figure 2.10 Desert Watchtower, designed by Mary Jane Colter, Grand Canyon National
Park, photographer: Henry G. Peabody, photograph courtesy National Park Service
Historic Photography Collection, 1930s.
After seeing Robert Reamers design for the Old Faithful Inn, Henry
E. Klamer hired him to design an adjacent general store in a style that
would compliment the rustic style of inn, Ruth Quinn, historian and a tour
guide at the Old Faithful Inn, described the design as ...the joining of
11 Virginia L. Grattan, Mary Colter Builder Upon the Red Earth, (Grand Canyon: Grand
Canyon Natural History Association, 1992), 1.
nature and building construction.12 Klamer later sold this store to
entrepreneur Charles A. Hamilton (figure 2.11).
Figure 2.11 C. A. Hamilton in front of his rustic style Old Faithful Store, Yellowstone
National Park, photographer: L.A. Nichilson, photograph courtesy National Park Service
Historic Photography Collection, 1926.
With all of the different interests and parties constructing in the
parks the result was a wide variety of architectural styles. In Yellowstone
the architecture became what National Park Service Architectural
Historian, Rodd Wheaton, calls a microcosm of American design: There
12 Ruth Quinn, Weaver of Dreams: The Life and Architecture of Robert C. Reamer,
(Bozeman: Leslie & Ruth Quinn, 2004), 54 55.
is no one park style but, like America as a whole, the richness of the fabric
that characterizes the architecture at once unites the park with the rest of
the country and also makes it a very special place.13 In his article,
Wheaton lists the different architectural styles built in Yellowstone:
Queen Anne/Eastlake style Lake Hotel
Stick style masquerading as rustic Old Faithful Inn
Neo-classicist Colonial Revival redesign of Lake Hotel
Colonial Revival Fort Yellowstone officers buildings
Chinese style U.S. Engineers Office, Mammoth Hot
French style Mammoth Post Office
Dutch Colonial Nichols House at Mammoth
Prairie style Childs House, Mammoth
Arts & Crafts bungalow Reamers Norris Soldier Station
Parkitecture or Rustic Herbert Maiers museums
Warehouses in Gardiner, MT
Miesian style (Mies van der Rohe) Old
Faithful Mission 66 Visitor Center
Post-Modern style Grant Village dining room
Neo-Traditionalist 1990 Old Faithful Snow Lodge
As the National Park Service became established it was decided
that the building style and constructed features within National Parks
should blend in or harmonize with the surroundings. Linda McClelland
13 Rodd L. Wheaton, "Architecture of Yellowstone a Microcosm of American
Design," (Yellowstone Science 8, no. 4, 2000), 19. Some of the architectural styles noted
by Wheaton are not acknowledged styles, but were coined by him.
explained how Frank A. Waugh (1869 1943), a National Park Service
landscape architect, felt that structures located within the parks should
look natural and that buildings should be grouped in simple orderly
Artificial structures in wild park lands should be made as
inconspicuous as possible, should be harmonious with the
landscape as fully as possible, and should be constructed of
native materials such as local stone, peeled logs, etc.
Nevertheless, the general principle is true that what is
practical and useful, simple, direct, and straightforward,
is agreeable to the human eye.14
This statement illustrates the origin of the first set of system-wide design
As the new national parks and historic sites were developed,
perhaps no other profession played as large a part in the design of the
parks and how the visitor experienced and perceived the scenery as did
the landscape architecture profession.15 The National Park Service issued
this statement of policy in 1918 indicating the importance of the landscape
In the construction of roads, trails, buildings, and other
improvements, particular attention must be devoted always
to the harmonizing of these improvements with the
landscape. This is a most important item in our program of
development and requires the employment of trained
engineers who either possess a knowledge of landscape
14 McClelland, Building the National Parks, 444.
15 William H. Tishler, "The Landscape: An Emerging Historic Preservation
Resource" [Bulletin of the Association for Preservation Technology 11, no. 4 (1979)], 9.
architecture or have a proper appreciation of the esthetic
value of park lands.16
These early landscape architects were preservationists for the scenic
landscapes which had caused in the areas to be set apart. The site
development of the roads, pull-outs, campgrounds, entrance stations,
ranger stations, and areas where visitor services afforded protected
landscapes resulted in a better experience for park visitors. The landscape
architect drew attention to the beauty and character of the park.
Landscape architecture professor and former historical landscape
architect for the National Park Service, Ethan Carr described the
importance and value of the role of landscape architects:
For most visitors, even today, the emotional enjoyment
achieved through the appreciation of landscape beauty is not
an inevitable, accidental, or haphazard affair. The designed
landscapes within the park choreograph visitors movements
and define the pace and sequence of much of the
experience. The designed landscapes mediate between the
individual and the vast terrain of the backcountry.
Wilderness and designed landscape together generate the
aesthetic appreciation of landscapes and emotional
communion with the natural world ...17
When designing the built areas within a park, Director Stephen
Mather had stressed the importance of the principle of preservation of
landscape scenery.18 Designers and builders were to protect existing
16 McClelland, Linda Flint. Presenting Nature: The Historic Landscape Design of
the National Park Service. (Washington D. C.: US Government Printing Office, 1993), 73.
17 Carr, Ethan. Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture & the National
Park Service. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998) 1.
18 Carr, Wilderness by Design, 163.
vegetation whenever possible. The landscape architects and engineers
designed roads that followed the natural topography or what McClelland
describes as natures contours.19 Great care was taken to determine
where the best vistas and views were available for the siting of the scenic
overlooks. National Park Service crews constructed trails to connect
areas within the park, and to provide opportunities for experiencing the
parks hidden wonders and features; these trails offerfed] a variety of
scenes.20 In addition, landscape architects designed campgrounds to
retain their natural character.
Charles P. Punchard Jr. (? 1920) served as the Park Services
first landscape architect from 1918, until his death two years later in
1920.21 His goals were to provide visitor services, yet protect the natural
scenery. His work set the foundation for the design philosophies that were
followed by park staff for years to come.
Punchard was succeeded by Daniel Hull who was Chief Landscape
Architect for the Park Service from 1920 1927. Hull advocated the use
of natural materials. Linda McClelland described Hulls contribution to
Park Service design principles: Under Hulls supervision, the national
parks began to develop comprehensive plans to guide all future
improvements throughout a park.22 Before the Park Service was even
formed the possibilities for making money from the visitors had presented
an opportunity for concessioners to offer tours, food, and lodging. Hull
19 McClelland, Presenting Nature, 1.
20 McClelland, Building the National Parks, 446.
21 McClelland, Building the National Parks, 136.
22 McClelland, Building the National Parks, 159.
was concerned that their facilities should present a cohesive theme rather
than being haphazardly designed and constructed. Hull, and later
landscape architect Thomas Vint (1894 -1967), placed more and more
emphasis on general planning in order to create: logical well-studied
general development plans for each park, which included the control of the
location, type of architecture, planting, and grading, in connection with any
23 McClelland, Presenting Nature, 117.
As the National Park Service design professionals began to exert
control over construction projects, they developed a set of design
principles which called for the use of local, natural materials. This led to
what became known as rustic design or parkitecture. Carr explained:
The subsequent construction of park roads, bridges, trails, buildings, and
entire park villages retained the rustic inspiration considered appropriate
for a wilderness park setting.24 These rustic features and buildings have
endured over the intervening years, and they have set a mood and a
sense of place for the parks.
Albert H. Good, an architectural consultant hired by the Park
Service in the 1930s, was a strong proponent of rustic style. He
admonished designers to be careful with their designs: Those who have
been called on to plan the areas where structural trespass is not a
justifiable taboo have sought to do so with a certain grace.25 He
developed three pattern books or portfolios for designers of appropriate
parkitecture: Portfolio of Comfort Stations and Privies, Portfolio of Park
Structures and Recreation Structures, and Park Structures and Facilities,
which the Park Service published in 1938 as Park and Recreation
24 Carr, Ethan. Wilderness by Design, 7.
25 Albert H. Good. Pattern from the Golden Age of Rustic Design, Park and
Recreation Structures from the 1930s. (1938; repr., Lanham: Roberts Rinehart, 1990), 2.
Structures.26 Throughout his writings he advocated the preservation of
natural features. Albert Good felt that the siting of structures must be
carefully thought out:
Although a park structure exists solely for the use of the
public, it is not required that it be seen from some distance.
In its most satisfying expressing, the park structure is
designed with a view to subordination to its environment and
it is located so that it may profit from any natural screening
that may exist.... Since the concession (building) must be
located at the crossroads of the park, and must proclaim
itself to the public, it cannot be exactly the shy violet among
park buildings, it must announce its commercial traffic
unmistakably but with subtlety.27
Just as eighteenth-century landscape designer, Lancelot
Capability Brown created picturesque landscape designs, Park Service
designers strove to create perceived landscape compositions.28 Good
cautioned park designers that one style did not fit every landscape, as
different sites might call for a different style of structure. Carr noted that
Park Service designers did try to capture the regional landscape
Huge boulders and logs were only appropriate to landscape
of rugged terrain clothed in ancient forests; traditional adobe
construction appeared in desert parks, while milled lumber
and more conventional outlines were typical in the East.
26 Albert H. Good, Park and Recreation Structures. Three vols. (Washington
D.C.: Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1938).
27 Good, Pattern from the Golden Age of Rustic Design, 4-5.
28 Carr, Wilderness by Design, 48.
Native American and pioneer construction techniques (real
or imagined) provided inspiration everywhere.29
Goods portfolios and design books provided graphic examples of
built features suitable for state and national parks during a period of
intense building, utilizing the large workforce of the Civilian Conservation
Corps. Though the park designers were encouraged to be sensitive to the
style of the region in which the park was located, Good offered specific
design principles for the construction of naturalistic designs. McClelland
summarized these guidelines:
Subordinate construction to the park plan
In order to have unity of design a park was to have one style with
the same type of materials and construction methods used
Structures were to be subordinated to the environment
Structures were to be located to take advantage of natural
Additional plantings were to provide screening to integrate
structures and natural settings
Plants were to be placed around the foundation of a building to
erase the line between the ground and the structure
All elevations were to be considered important and be worthy of
being viewed from all sides
Structures were to have horizontal lines and to have a low
29 Carr, Wilderness by Design, 285.
Roofs were to have a low pitch, and to be a consistent weight with
the rest of the structure
The roof covering was to have a heavy texture that would be in
scale with the building
Eave lines were to be thick
Native materials that had character were to be used
Rocks were to be placed with their stratification horizontal to the
A variety of sizes of rocks were to be used throughout, but larger
rocks were to be placed near the base to be in keeping with the
Gables were to be oversized
Logs were to retain the knots which lent texture and character
Straight lines were to be shunned; rather irregular, wavering lines
Colors were to be those that occur in nature: warm browns or
driftwood grey with a light buff color for contrast greens were to
Goods publications, along with other portfolios and books, became
invaluable during the years that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
was engaged in work within the state and national parks, between 1933 -
1942. The pattern books provided a ready source of plans for a variety of
structures. The CCC was a major part of President Franklin Roosevelts
public work relief program for unemployed men during the Great
Depression. The CCC greatly benefited the national parks as it provided
30 McClelland, Building the National Parks,, 433 440.
a large work force supervised by landscape architects and engineers, who
themselves were in need of employment during that time. The CCC built
thousands of miles of trails and roads, as well as drainage features,
bridges, cabins, fire lookouts, and housing for employees.31 The National
Park Service was able to combine Albert Goods booklets into the
comprehensive Park and Recreation Structures with CCC funding.32
In Yellowstone National Park, three buildings from the Rustic Era
were determined to be National Historic Landmarks on May 28, 1986.
These three museums were designed by Herbert Maier. The Madison
Museum, Norris Museum, and Fishing Bridge Museum are the subjects of
a case study that was undertaken to understand and illustrate rustic
Rustic Design Case Study:
Herbert Maiers Yellowstone Museums
Herbert Maier was a native of San Francisco. He attended the
University of California Berkley and studied architecture at Healds College
of Engineering in San Francisco. While he was in California, he had
exposure to, and training, in the Arts and Craft style. Maier designed
museums in several national parks for the American Association of
Museums. He joined the National Park Service as an administrator in
1933. He rose to prominence and was influential in promoting rustic
design within the national parks during the CCC years. In 1961, as a
result of his contributions to park design and development, the Secretary
of the Interior presented him with a Distinguished Service Award:
31 Alfred E. Cornebise, The CCC Chronicles: Camp Newspapers of the Civilian
Conservation Corps, 1933- 1942, (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2004), 17.
32 Carr, Wilderness by Design, 284.
Maiers influence on park architecture was overwhelming.
Of the early buildings constructed for the fledgling Service,
his best typify the rustic design philosophy. Maier admitted
being slightly uncomfortable with the concept of buildings in
national parks and saw them as necessary evils. To him
even the finest building...is somewhat of an intruder. His
success was in minimizing that intrusion by maximizing the
use of indigenous building materials in a way that seemed as
if the building had just grown of its own accord on the site
with rock walls cropping up out of the earth but so strongly
tied to it through, as he said, the horizontal key that made
his buildings blend with the surrounding ground.33
Unlike Albert Good, who provided detailed sketches illustrating
appropriate park designs, Maier created a design handbook illustrated
with photographs depicting examples of what he felt were proper design
principles. Like Good, Maier embraced the use of native materials in
order to blend a structure into its site. Carr characterized Maiers
methods as having the ability to shape the landscape, or to create
Maiers park architecture ... could literally improve the view;
it embodied the intellectual keys scientific research and
interpretation that could open the experience of places to
new dimensions of appreciation. Intellectually and visually,
Maiers park museums added new meaning to landscape
scenery in the 20th century just as surely as the carefully
placed ruined temple or peasant cottage once did in
landscape imagery of earlier eras.34
33 Laura Soulliere, National Park Service, Madison, Norris, and Fishing Bridge
Museums National Register of Historic Places Nomination, 1986, 11.
34 Carr, Wilderness by Design, 145.
Herbert Maier designed a museum for Yosemite National Park in
1925, the Yavapai museum in the Grand Canyon National Park in 1928,
and in Yellowstone National Park he designed a park museum system
which included roadside exhibit panels and four park museums, each
interpreting a different aspect or feature of the park. His museum at Old
Faithful (figure 3.1), located near the Old Faithful Geyser, provided
interpretation of the geyser system in the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins
of the Old Faithful area. This museum was razed later when it was
deemed to be too small, and a Mission 66 Visitor Center was constructed
in it place. The three Maier museums remaining in Yellowstone are:
Madison Museum, 1929, Norris Museum, 1929, and Fishing Bridge
Museum, 1931. Carr felt that these museums were so significant that they
would be held up as paradigm for rustic architecture:
...Herbert Maiers Yellowstone museums would epitomize
the ideal of rustic architecture for both national and state
parks, and in part this architecture owed its complete
identification with the role of large parks as living classrooms
and museums of natural and cultural history.35
35 Carr, Wilderness by Design, 145.
Figure 3.1 Old Faithful Museum, photograph courtesy of the National Park Service,
Herbert Maier was hired to design the Yellowstone museums by the
American Association of Museums, using a grant from the Laura Spellman
Rockefeller Foundation. Upon completion, the museums were donated to
the Park. Maiers role as a designer was to provide spaces for education
and the interpretation of a single aspect or particular area of the Park.36
These museums are significant not only for their exemplary rustic design
(which influenced the design of untold numbers of future park structures),
but also for being examples of the interpretive program of the National
36 Soulliere, Norris, Madison, and Fishing Bridge Museums, 1.
The Madison Museum, built in 1929, is located at the confluence of
the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers, where the Madison River is formed.
Located near the Madison Junction on the Grand Loop Road, it is nestled
in this quiet river valley, in a meadow, surrounded by pine covered
mountains. The purpose of this museum was to interpret the story of the
birth of the national park idea. The museum still stands, though the story
that inspired it has been shown to be untrue as revealed by Paul
Since the turn of the century, the creation of
Yellowstone has been told as a near-fable in which the idea
for the park came into being on the evening of September
29, 1870, as Washburn and his friends sat around a
campfire at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers.
The next day they would follow the Madison River (formed
by that junction) back home and their sense of opportunity
and responsibility weighed heavily. After various party
members had suggested ways to profit from the areas
wonders (such as staking claims to profitable tourist sites),
Cornelius Hedges asserted that the area was too important
for commercial exploitation and should be made into a
national park. The men agreed and vowed to fight for the
protection of Yellowstones wonders. This is the institutional
legend that has inspired generations of conservationists,
rangers, and park visitors.
One hundred and two years later a plaque was
dedicated at Madison Junction in honor of that campfire
conversation, which led to the birth of Yellowstone and of the
national parks. The campfire story, this spontaneous
outflowing of good will and energy, this immaculate
conception of a great idea, still has wide currency in the
literature and speech making of the national pars. The story
portrayed the park idea as having such intuitive force of
rightness that it was immediately embraced by all who heard
it. For park managers seeking to justify or enlarge their
meager budgets, the campfire story provided a rhetorical
position of moral unassailability. It also provided the park
movement with perfect heroes: altruists who were so
committed to protecting wonder and beauty that they would
forgo all thought of personal gain. And it put the creation of
the park movement in the hands of the people whose
possession of it would have the most symbolic power:
But the legend is not true.37
Today the Madison Museum serves as the headquarters for the Junior
The Madison Museum
blends into its surroundings
as it steps down with the
topography (figure 3.5). The
museum is a 533-square feet
building with a gable roof with
clipped edges. Random sized
flagstones (figure 3.2) were
used in the walkways around
the building and on the rear
viewing platform. Low boulders form a wall around the platform. From the
viewing platform an obsidian gravel pathway leads to the National Park
plaque, a Stephen Mather plaque, and a bench from which the
magnificent scenery can be viewed. The building is T-shaped with an
intersecting hip roof covered with heavy shingles. The roof overhangs the
building. The rustic battered stone foundation is constructed of various
sized boulders and stones. Large exposed logs, with knots and gnarls are
used at the top of the foundation, and as exposed rafters. The outer walls
are covered in double-coursed shingles. There is a rough stone chimney
37 Schullery, Searching for Yellowstone, 56.
Figure 3.2 Random sized flagstones contribute
to the natural feel of the space, photograph by
Sandy Low, 2008.
at rear of building. Today, the stones of the chimney are covered with
lichen creating a rugged, natural appearance (figure 3.8). A side door
(figure 3.3) is formed by wide planks with the hardware matching the scale
of the building, with its heavy
hinges and latches. Over the
windows on the front and rear
elevation, Maier added a
decoration of cut-outs depicting
green painted diamonds and pine
trees upon vertical boards with
rounded ends giving the
impression of a scalloped edge
(figure 3.6). Windows and doors
on the front and rear elevations
allow light to stream through,
creating the feeling that the
building is merely a passageway
to the outside viewing platform in
the rear (figure 3.10).
The Madison Museum sits low to the ground, in subordination to its
surroundings (figure 3.4). The extensive use of natural materials helps to
blend it into the landscape. The site provides tranquil views of the river
valley (figure 3.11). There is a feeling of quietness and remoteness on the
site as it is some distance from the main loop road.
Figure 3.3 A heavy door with iron hardware
is in keeping with scale of building,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.4 The Madison Museum blends into the environment, photograph by Sandy
Figure 3.5 Madison Museum the foundation steps down with the topography,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.6 Front elevation, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.7 Side elevation all elevations have a finished appearance, photograph by
Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.8 Natural weathering adds to the character of the space, photograph by Sandy
Figure 3.9 Viewing platform at rear of the museum, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.10 View of the valley from the museum site, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
The overall impression of the museum and its location is that it is
ancillary to the site. The building is merely there to interpret the National
Park story and to celebrate the view. The natural materials repeat the
colors and textures of the landscape surrounding the museum. The
progression down from the parking lot, through the museum and on down
the path creates a feeling that the world is being left behind and that the
viewer, too, is becoming part of nature and part of the landscape. The
weathering of the stones in the foundation and the chimney, as well as the
lichen that covers them, give the impression that the they have, over time,
become even more one with the surroundings.
Though the building is almost one hundred years old, it has been
well maintained and preserved. Harrison, in the National Register
nomination, details the physical changes:
...addition of carpet, track-lighting, new electrical work done
in 1971 for the centennial celebration. The wood stove
formerly used to heat the building was removed. The
partition between the two rooms was removed to make the
building one large exhibit space. The building was re-roofed
and much of the exposed logwork repaired or restored during
the summer of 1982. The buildings original shingle roof was
painted green, but the new shingle roof was left unfinished.
The surrounding vegetation was cut back in 1983.38
Maiers Madison Museum is a testament to his belief that design
should consist of ...pragmatic solutions that followed function on the one
hand and nature on the other.39 However the presence of the green
painted pine trees and diamonds, add a discordant note. They appear to
be an imitation of Swiss architecture and seem to be very much out of
place. It is ironic that Maier himself spoke out against such
ornamentation: National Park Service spokesman Herbert Maier
classified such ornamentation as gingerbread and...cautioned state park
designers against its use for park structures.40
The Norris Museum, built in 1930, was constructed to interpret the
Norris Geyser Basin and other nearby thermal features. Today, it houses
exhibits and serves as a seasonal residence. It is located upstream from
the Madison Museum on the Gibbon River, overlooking Porcelain Geyser
Basin (named for the delicate colors of its pools). This 1,864 square foot
building is in a slight cruciform shape, and it has a breezeway cut through
the center which serves as a gateway, or portal (figure 3.11), to the
Geyser Basin beyond. Above the breezeway are the words Norris
38 Harrison, Norris, Madison, and Fishing Bridge, 2.
39 McClelland, Presenting Nature, 236.
40 McClelland, Presenting Nature, 54.
Museum spelled out in wrought iron. The foundation is of rough stone of
differing sizes. The stone is laid in a battered style, narrowing as it rises,
giving the impression that in spite of the unstable ground of the geyser
basin, the museum is secure and connected to the earth (figure 3.14).
The walls are log and wood frame with wood shingles; large logs are laid
between the stone foundation and the shingled wall. The shingles on the
clipped gable roof are painted green. The peak of the roof rises up one
and one half stories, providing an open, spacious feeling as the visitor
passes underneath. Heavy log beams support the overhanging roof.
Raised-tie scissor trusses support the gable ends. A rough stone chimney
pierces the building on the rear elevation. Log brackets, stained dark
brown, with exposed knots and gnarls support the roof (figure 3.12). The
window frames are painted the same green color as the roof. A viewing
platform extends out from the building to the rear (figure 3.15). However,
only brief glimpses of the Geyser Basin can be seen from this platform as
pine trees have been allowed to grow up between the museum and the
Geyser Basin, blocking the view (figure 3.16). A pathway leads from the
museum down toward the geyser basin; at the end of this pathway is a
wide area designed to let visitors take in a view which may leave them
spellbound. Pathways then branch out, leading down into the actual
Norris Geyser Basin (figure 3.17).
Figure 3.11 Norris Museum sign above the breezeway with a glimpse of the view,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.12 Norris Museum log brackets add a decorative touch, photograph by Sandy
Figure 3.13 Norris Museum raised-tie scissor trusses support the gable roof,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.14 Norris Museum the foundation is rough stone, photograph by Sandy Low,
Figure 3.16 Norris Museum pine trees have grown since the museum was built
obstructing the view of the geyser basin, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.17 Norris Museum a pathway leads away from the museum, photograph by
Sandy Low, 2008.
The Norris Museum is the most visited of Maiers remaining
buildings as it is the gateway to the Norris Geyser Basin and thus gets a
high volume of foot traffic. In contrast, the Madison and Fishing Bridge
Museums are located somewhat off the beaten path. Using the Norris
Museum as a threshold builds an anticipation of what is beyond. The
open breezeway has a disadvantage in that it encourages visitors to keep
moving as it funnels them through to the geyser basin rather than
encouraging them to stop and view the museums exhibits that explain
what they are seeing.
The third of Maiers remaining Yellowstone museums is the Fishing
Bridge Museum. It is located on the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, just
east of the once-popular trout fishing spot, Fishing Bridge. This 4,440
square foot building was constructed in 1930 1931. Originally this
trailside museum was intended to interpret the birds and mammals of
Yellowstone; it now serves as a visitor center with a book store, and a
small museum. It epitomizes Maiers design philosophy that a building
needed to blend into its environment, as Maier used landscape
techniques and features to blend museum buildings and structures with
the natural setting they were intended to interpret.41
From the main road the visitor turns into a parking lot set amid tall
pine trees. The site includes separate buildings that house a comfort
station, the naturalists residence, and an amphitheater. Large stone
pillars create an entry that arouses the visitors curiosity and invites them
to enter (figure 3.18). A pathway, bordered by pines, leads to the
Figure 3.18 Fishing Bridge Museum Large Stone Pillars Create an Entry. Photograph
by Sandy Low.
41 McClelland, Presenting Nature, 239.
In front of the museum, interpretative signage depicts the
construction of the building itself. The text describes the features of
Fishing Bridge Museum and mentions Maiers other Yellowstone
museums. Part of the text of the sign reads: Paradoxically, these
human-made structures bring into focus and interpret their natural
settings (figure 3.19).
Figure 3.19 Fishing Bridge Museum interpretative signage, photograph by Sandy Low
Figure 3.20 Fishing Bridge Museum front elevation, photograph by Sandy Low,2008.
The Fishing Bridge Museum is a rectangular, one-story building. On
the front elevation, rugged rhyolite boulders border the edge of a flagstone
terrace, and are repeated in the battered walls of the lower section of the
building (figure 3.20). The roof overhangs and heaviness of the timbers
help to balance the bulk of the lower portion of the museum. Randomly
sized boulders are used for the rough stone chimney and the stonework at
the edges of the central section (figure 3.21). The center section has a
gable roof while the wings of the building have a hipped, or clipped, gable
style. The slightly higher center section is flanked by two attached wings.
Heavy logs, with exposed ends, provide the roof framing and supporting
brackets and purlins (figure 3.22). The wooden shingles used on the outer
walls are applied in a wavy line to reflect the tenet that there are no
straight lines in nature. The rear elevation exhibits the rustic mandate that
all elevations of a structure have equal importance (figure 3.23). A
compass rose etched in the concrete on the back terrace invites the visitor
to step out of the museum and continue to explore (figure 3.24). As
visitors step off the back terrace, they walk down a pathway framed by
pine trees (figure 3.25). The pathway leads to yet another viewing
platform (figure 3.26). This viewing platform is poised above the beach
and has seating which allows for the contemplation of a breathtaking view
of the mountain lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains (figure 3.26).
Rugged steps curve down to the beach and merge into the sand and
gravel that edges the lake for miles in either direction. Water laps
rhythmically at the shore and geese honk as they fly overhead creating a
peaceful, serene experience that lets the visitor get in touch with self and
Figure 3.21 Fishing Bridge Museum random sized boulders were used for the rough
stone chimney, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.22 Fishing Bridge Museum roof overhang, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.23 Fishing Bridge Museum rear elevation photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.24 Fishing Bridge Museum A compass rose is etched in the concrete,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.25 Fishing Bridge Museum -a pathway leads from the back terrace, photograph
by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.26 Fishing Bridge Museum a viewing platform with a bench allows for
contemplation of the view, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 3.27 View of Yellowstone Lake from the viewing platform, photograph by Sandy
Though the Fishing Bridge Museum retains much of its original
integrity there have been changes over the years. In the National Register
nomination for the Museum, Harrison details some of these changes:
linoleum now covers the original interior concrete floor, some of the stone
steps have been replaced with concrete steps, fluorescent lighting has
been added, partitions have been installed to form offices, and in 1983,
there was an extensive restoration of the exterior logwork in the roof
frame, and the original 24 roof shingles (no longer manufactured) were
replaced with shake roofing to create a rougher appearance. Also, some
of the original doors have been replaced with doors of a more
Overall, these three museums remain classic examples of rustic
design exhibiting all of the characteristics that are associated with that era
of design and construction. McClelland wrote of Maiers contribution to
the Rustic Era:
Maiers greatest contribution to park design was his mastery
of rockwork assimilating both the landscape gardeners
emphasis on naturalism and the architects vision of the
construction potential of this material.43
Rustic design, using Maiers work as the prototype for the design
principles, was embraced as the correct style for park structures, and
was used almost exclusively in the National Park System for almost fifty
42 Harrison, Norris, Madison, and Fishing Bridge, 3.
43 McClelland, Presenting Nature, 238.
MISSION 66 MODERN IN A RUSTIC WORLD
After World War II, life changed dramatically for the average
American citizen, and these changes, in turn, caused significant problems
throughout the National Park System. Increased visitation created a
demand for more facilities and more services. Drastic action was needed
to protect the parks from the crowds that descended upon them. The
visitors were a threat to natural resources of the parks, and visitors were
not enjoying the experiences that they had expected from a national park.
In his book Mission 66 Modernism and the National Park Dilemma,
Carr listed the numerous changes in society that brought more people to
the parks; after World War II, the United States population jumped from
132 million to 180 million, wages were significantly higher, there were
more and faster automobiles, people had more leisure time, and the road
system was improved, all of which made the parks more accessible.
Increased visitation led to crowded parks, insufficient space in the aging
campgrounds (figure 4.1), long lines at comfort stations which with
increased use became unsanitary and unusable, roads unable to handle
the increased traffic, and long lines at the entrance stations.
A new building movement conceived by, and under the direction of
Conrad Wirth (1899 1993), was the Park Services answer to the crisis.
Wirth had studied landscape architecture, and was hired by the Park
Service in 1931 based on the personal recommendation of Frederick Law
During the 1930s, Wirth had gained experience in park
management through his direction of many of the CCC programs. He had
many years of experience in organizing and executing park programs. He
had also been made a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape
Architects for his contributions to the field of landscape architecture.45
44 Carr, Mission 66, 10.
45 Carr, Mission 66103 106.
Conrad Wirth became director of the National Park Service in 1951. In
1956, under his leadership, the Park Service launched a new building
program. Wirth used the year 1966, the fiftieth anniversary of the National
Park Service, as the impetus to provide solutions for the parks. During the
decade from 1956 1966 the Park Service was faced with the task of
providing needed facilities in the parks. The program, or Mission 66 as it
was called, became: ...the reinvention of the national park system and
the National Park Service and to some extent the national park idea to
meet the exigencies of postwar American Society.46 The goals and
design principles of the Mission 66 Era were:
Additional accommodations through greater participation of
Better government-operated facilities
Improved services leading to better visitor cooperation
Operating funds and field staff for a high standard of
Adequate living quarters for park service employees
Acquisition of needed lands and rights
A coordinated nationwide recreation plan shared by all levels
Protection and preservation of wilderness areas.47
46 Carr, Mission 66, 12.
47 Newton, Design on the Land, 552.
In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 1969) was elected President of
the United States. With the personal support and backing of President
Eisenhower, Wirth was able to propose a ten-year program as a public
works spending that would stimulate the economy.48 Congress increased
the National Park Service budget, earmarking over $700 million for the ten
year Mission 66 program.
In some aspects, the role of the landscape architect decreased as
architects and interpreters took a much more prominent role in the design
and development of the visitor centers. Landscape architects, though,
had proven their worth in the oversight of projects within the Park Service
and once again they proved to be an integral part of the team that
produced master plans for the national parks. Carr described Mission 66
as a crusade that carried on the ideals, first described by Andrew
Jackson Downing and the Olmsteds, of American parks being the great
public spaces of the nation49
Mission 66 became a balancing act between: conflicting agendas
of concessioners, conservationists, and the diverse, always demanding
public.50 Among the programs many critics, the environmentalists were
quick to state their concerns. They were afraid that the parks would be
overdeveloped, resulting in the nations cultural, historic, and natural
places being unprotected and destroyed.
Mission 66 came to symbolize ... a willingness to sacrifice
the integrity of park ecosystems for the sake of enhancing
48 Carr, Mission 66, 10.
49 Carr, Mission 66, 283.
50 Carr, Mission 66, 73.
the merely superficial appreciation of scenery by crowds of
people in automobiles.51
In order to make the program more palatable, the Park Service
insisted that Mission 66 was not a development program but a
conservation program.52 The Park Service went on to justify their
program: Visitor enjoyment of parks was the best means of protecting
them against exploitation or encroachment; visitors must be channeled to
avoid overuse and deterioration of certain areas; channeling use in this
way required proper development.53
Critics were also extremely upset that use of the beloved rustic
style of park architecture, the style that had been long touted as the
correct or appropriate style for the parks, was discontinued. The Mission
66 programs turned away from the design principles of the Rustic Era and
instead utilized modern materials and methods, as Carr explains:
Mission 66 construction abandoned the architectural theory
and building technology of the rustic era. Distinctive new
buildings adapted various strains of postwar American
modernism to the programmatic and aesthetic requirements
of the national parks.54
Modernism had been gaining acceptance as an architectural style
in major cities in Europe and the United States. This went against the
grain for those who were fighting to preserve the nations heritage: For
51 Carr, Mission 66, 15.
52 Carr, Mission 66, 120.
53 Carr, Mission 66, 103.
54 Carr, Mission 66, 13.
preservationists who decried these changes in the American landscape in
general, seeing the expression in the frontcountry of national parks was
Figure 4.2 Jackson Lake Lodge the first modernist structure built within the National
Parks, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
55 Carr, Mission 66, 13.
A master of rustic architecture, as evidenced by his designs for the
Old Faithful Lodge (1923) in Yellowstone National Park and the Bryce
Canyon Lodge (1925) in Bryce Canyon National Park, Gilbert Stanley
Underwood came out of retirement to design one of the first modernist
park projects, the Jackson Lake Lodge (1954) in Grand Teton National
Park. The Jackson Lake Lodge is now a National Historic Landmark, but
it was initially severely criticized in that it did not harmonize with the
environment (figure 4.2).56
Though building modernist structures in the parks was criticized
from inside and outside of the Park Service Conrad Wirth and his team
had a limited amount of time to implement the changes that would save
the parks by providing needed facilities while still providing for the
enjoyment of the people. Modernism meant less expensive materials,
streamlined construction practices, and new ways of building. Carr
explained: Strict limitations on cost of buildings imposed by Congress
necessitated more economical building techniques.57
The materials of Mission 66 were the same as those that were
being used in mainstream America: Postwar park architecture made full
use of steel, concrete, prefabricated elements, unusual fenestration,
climate control, and other aspects of contemporary architecture.58
Buildings with a low, horizontal profile designed by well known modernist
architects, and interpretive spaces with a centralized location and good
circulation were characteristics of Mission 66 design and became some of
the eras basic design principles.
56 Carr, Mission 66, 132.
57 Carr, Mission 66, 140.
58 Carr, Mission 66, 13.
A new type of building was created during Mission 66, and proved
to be an important addition to the landscapes of the parks. Above all,
Mission 66 funded more than one hundred visitor centers, a new building
type invented by the agencys planners and architects, which was at the
heart of revised master planning goals for the park.59 The style of the
visitor center is what Sara Allaback refers to as Park Service Modern.60
Allaback lists the characteristics of these new, modern buildings:
inexpensive materials were used; labor saving techniques were practiced
(especially the use of prefabricated components); and the facades were
streamlined and without ornamentation. Since modern buildings were not
expected to blend in with the environment they were often sited away from
the picturesque portions of the parks and were located near roads and
near entrances or as Allaback wrote, Park Service Modern buildings were
no longer truly part of the park landscape ... or designed to be part of
picturesque landscape compositions.61 Allaback defined the role of the
visitor center, noting:
Throughout the Mission 66 period, the park services
overriding goal for its visitor centers was to improve
interpretation and stimulate public interest in the park. To do
this, the parks story was to be told as clearly and effectively
59 Carr, Mission 66, 12.
60 Sara Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center the History of a Building Type
(Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, 2000), 23.
61 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 23.
62 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 27.
Telling a parks story led to historians and interpreters having a much
greater role in the design process as they now had a voice in the
development of the master plans. Barry Mackintosh, a National Park
Service historian, helped to develop the interpretation program for the
Park Service. He urged the parks to provide interpretation that would
increase the visitors knowledge of the specific park and its resources so
that they would have a more enjoyable experience. He felt that by
promoting an understanding of the background and issues of a park the
visitors would understand their own responsibilities and be accountable for
respecting the resources within the parks.63
Since the visitor center was occasionally located near the resource
being interpreted, they might be sited right in the middle of a sensitive
area. An example of this siting issue can be seen at Fort Union National
Monument, Colorado, where the visitor center was placed amongst the
ruined structures that were to be interpreted. Another example is the
Quarry Visitor Center at Dinosaur National Monument, located in Colorado
and Utah, which was built against the hillside where the dinosaur fossils
were discovered. A further example may be seen at Gettysburg National
Military Park, Pennsylvania where internationally renowned architect
Richard Neutras Cyclorama Visitor Center was placed in the middle of the
actual battlefield (figure 4.3).
63 Mackintosh, Barry, Interpretation in the National Park Service, National Park
Service. 1975, 85.
Figure 4.3 Richard Neutras Cyclorama Visitor Center was built on the battlefield at
Gettysburg National Military Park, photograph courtesy of the National Park Service List
of Classified Structures, 2002.
The purpose of the visitor center was to offer services such as
restrooms, an information booth, exhibits that interpreted the park
features, an auditorium for showing a film that provided visual
interpretation, and a gift shop (often set up by and manned by an affiliated
park association) where souvenirs, books, posters and postcards could be
purchased. The visitor center often provided an outdoor experience with
viewing platforms, nearby trails, and/or picnic areas.64 The visitor center
was typically the most expensive and most visible of the new structures
built during Mission 66.65 In the majority of cases, the circulation was
carefully thought out and planned, as was the siting of the structure. The
visitor center was normally centrally located and easily accessible. Sara
Allaback described the concept:
64 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 27.
65 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 26.
Like the shopping center, the visitor center made it possible
for people to park their cars at a central point, and from there
have access to a range of services or attractions. ... The
Mission 66 visitor center brought these activities together in
a single, larger building intended to serve as a control point
for what planners called visitor flow, as well as a more
efficient means of serving far larger numbers of visitors and
cars in a more concentrated area.66
This siting of the structure also restricted automobiles to a
prescribed area which resulted in planners and landscape architects again
controlling how a park was perceived and remembered. Since most
people view the parks through their windshields (the vast majority of
visitors do not venture further than five hundred feet from their cars), the
visitor center complex provided easy access and convenience for those
arriving by car.
Figure 4.4 Saint Mary Visitor Center, Glacier National Park, photograph courtesy of the
National Park Service, List of Classified Structures, 2006.
66 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 25.
Another important characteristic of the Mission 66 visitor centers
was that, unlike rustic buildings, they did not attempt to blend into their
environment, but were intended to stand out, and to be noticed: The
visitor center was conceived as limited intrusion, separate and
distinguishable from the untouched nature left undisturbed around it.67
Often the buildings were stunning examples of modern architecture (figure
4.4): This modernist building type also exhibited a modernist relationship
between structure and site, and between visitor and landscape.68
67 Carr, Mission 66, 221.
68 Carr, Mission 66, 220.
As well as visitor centers, the Mission 66 program brought about
many other changes. Visitor demand increased the need for more comfort
stations, and campgrounds. Roads were widened and straightened, while
in Yellowstone, a cloverleaf interchange was constructed to reduce
congestion in the Old Faithful area (figure 4.5). More park rangers were
hired and the ranger uniform was updated. An arrowhead logo, designed
by rustic architect, Herbert Maier, became a branding symbol for the Park
The Park Service designers had to make the transition from rustic
design to modernism: ...even longtime Park Service architects ... had
developed new approaches in response to postwar conditions.69 One of
these architects was Cecil J. Doty, who had worked with Herbert Maier
during the CCC years and was hired by the Park Service in 1940. Carr
quoted Doty: when the CCC and all that labor ended, getting stone was
out of the question.70 Among the park projects that Doty designed was
the elegant Book Cliff Overlook, at Colorado National Monument (figure
69 Carr, Mission 66, 139.
70 Carr, Mission 66, 140.
Figure 4.6 Cecil Doty designed the Book Cliff Overlook at Colorado National Monument,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
The Mission 66 construction project designs were developed in the
National Park Service offices in San Francisco and Philadelphia, with the
Washington design office overseeing their work. Since there were so
many parks needing updated facilities within the ten year timeframe, an
architect outside the Park Service was sometimes commissioned to
design larger projects. The designs of these buildings often resulted in
what are today seen as iconic symbols of the United States. For instance,
modernist architect Eero Saarinens design of a futuristic arch for the
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in Saint Louis, Missouri, was
chosen through a national competition.71 Other prominent architectural
firms also contributed some modern designs for the Park Service. Canyon
Village in Yellowstone, the first official Mission 66 project, was designed
by California shopping center designer, Welton Becket (1902 1969).72
Rocky Mountain National Park commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright
protegees William Wesley Peters and Edmund Thomas Casey, of Taliesin
Associated Architects, to design a headquarters building and visitor center
(figure 4.7).73 Among the most notable and influential among these
architects was Richard Neutra.
Figure 4.7 Headquarters Building in Rocky Mountain National Park, designed by Taliesin
Associated Architects, photograph by Sandy Low, 2003.
71 Carr, Mission 66, 174.
72 Carr, Mission 66, 238.
73 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 189.
Richard Neutra, an internationally renowned modernist architect,
believed and advocated the importance of mans interaction with nature as
the relationship and experience of nature are central to our modern
aesthetic.74 Ethan Carr summarized Neutras style:
His style of architecture emphasized the composition of
space rather than building mass, asymmetry in plan and
elevation, and the organized repetition of individual building
units. Ornamentation and historical references were
completely eliminated, while new building technologies and
materials were embraced.75
The National Park Service commissioned Neutra and his partner, Robert
Alexander, to design the Cyclorama Visitor Center, in Gettysburg National
Military Park, Pennsylvania, and the Painted Desert Complex, in Petrified
Forest National Park, Arizona. The latter is the subject of a case study
conducted to examine and analyze the design principles of the Mission 66
era. Research into this specific project is used to help formulate a set of
design principles that are applicable for today and in the future.
Mission 66 Case Study:
Richard Neutras Painted Desert Complex
Richard Neutra was born in Vienna in 1872. He studied
architecture in Vienna under modernist architect Adolf Loos (1870 -
1933). Neutras wife, Dione (1903 -), called her husband my white
74 Peter Goessel, editor. Richard Neutra Complete Works (Koln: TASCHEN,
75 Carr, Mission 66, 2007, 138.
tornado due to his thick mane of white hair and unceasing animation.76
Neutra was internationally recognized by the time he was in his early
thirties. He was on the cover of TIME magazine in 1949. The American
Institute of Architects posthumously awarded him a gold medal for being
one of the first architects to apply the findings of the behavioral science
to the design of the man-made environment. 77 Neutra had an office in
Los Angeles, and he was hailed as "the dominant architectural personality
in southern California."78 Landscape architect Garrett Eckbo (1910
2000) thought that Neutras work clarified this relationship [between a
building and its site] and represented a long step in the advance of the
tendency of many architects to view the building as an object dart for
which the site is merely a subservient setting.79
Architect Rudolf Schindler was an influence on Neutra as well as a
friend and a partner. Neutra worked for Frank Lloyd Wright for four
months in 1924. Neutra thought Wrights designs had the ability to be
both serious and monumental without stressing symmetry.80 With the
influence of architects of this caliber, Neutra developed a passion for
modern architecture, and he became a well respected and admired
modernist architect. His buildings are noted for their elegance: The
outstanding quality of Richard Neutras building is usually considered in
76 Goessel, Richard Neutra, 18.
77 Amanda Zeman, Painted Desert Community Complex Historic District National
Register Nomination (2004), 18.
78 David Gebhard, "Richard Neutra 1950-60. Buildings and Projects." (College Art
Journal19, no. 4 Summer, 1960), 398-399.
79 David Leatherbarrow, Topographical Stories Studies in Landscape and
Architecture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 62.
80 Goessel, Richard Neutra, 16.
terms of architectural form making, as superb in composition, as elegant in
style. He was a modernists Modernist.81
Neutra believed that the most important influence on a design was
the human element. Nature, and a designers response to it, was also of
primary importance to Neutra; he felt that relationship and experience of
nature was central to our modern aesthetic and physical activity and
health themes were also a major part of the Neutra approach to design.82
In his extensive writings, Neutra exhorted designers to build for man and
understand and respect nature:
The creative architect of tomorrow composes and assembles
stimuli for millions of sense receptors, yesterday still
unknown. They elicit those responses, activate those life
processes which he certainly must not disturb or harm. For
Vitruvins and Palladio geometry was the great science. At
best their clients had but five senses and their world was
equally simply put together of four elements.
We men of today and tomorrow can of course not go on
operating in this simple scenery of earth, air, water, and
fire. We must fit our constructed environmental patchwork
into a nature as we know her today. Because she is a more
known nature, through quite a bit more complicated. Our
clients have nerves, brains, and organic endowment which
fascinatingly demand an ever-increased comprehension
from designers of buildings and cities.
Instead of a fashion business of technical and formal
novelties every spring and fall, instead of being enamored
with new gadgets, fabrications, installations, constructions
81 W. Boesigner, (Editor). Richard Neutra: 1950-60 Buildings and Projects. (New
York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1959), 42.
82 Goessel, Richard Neutra, 7.
and materials, we shall find that the true subject for a
composer of human environment is man.
The foreword of Richard Neutra, 1950 1960 lists many of Neutras
design philosophies. They include: his careful treatment of the use of the
light. He felt that a serene mood or feeling could be created by light and
transparency. He believed that the materials used for framing, though
strong, should suggest a delicate feeling. Neutra frequently used bands of
light silver paint, as it reflected and diffused light. These bands of silver
paint drew the eye out into nature. His response to nature was not only
visual but also responded to the climate of the site: holes in bottom and
tops of walls which Neutra placed in parapets extending beyond the roof
to hide the sloping roof were to set up convection currents so that hot air
would escape up and out.83 84
Neutras buildings were well thought out and executed. When he
wanted the walls of a structure to appear to recede he used a dark color
and conversely he used a light color when he wanted the walls to project
out into their environment. He would use the same material on the floor
and the ceiling in order to continue from indoors to out, and glass
corners were used to elongate space through diagonal vistas, which he
believed would empower the individual.85 The components of his
structures created rhythms between them that balanced their sites.
Neutras buildings were designed to meet the ground cleanly, to
create a contrast between the building and the landscape, with the spatial
83 Richard Neutra, The New and the Old in Architecture, quoted in Boesigner,
Richard Neutra: 1950-60 Buildings and Projects. (New York: Frederick A. Praeger,
84 Boesigner, Richard Neutra, 26.
85 Boesigner, Richard Neutra, 48.
organization being clearly defined. He used datum lines such as one high
horizontal line above clerestory windows or solid white plaster, to create
an upper plane that would unify a room. He created a sense of enclosure
when he included a high upper wall in a structure. He used layered spatial
transitions to serve layered functions.86
Neutras architecture was often portrayed as a machine in the
garden. For Neutra the sacred spot of a building was the terrace, with
an overhang that pulls the site in and permits outdoor living, and rather
than designing a place, he created transition between the site and
building. Neutra felt that people need physical contact with nature and
with the outdoors. This contact would allow them to make use of their
senses so that they would be able to orient themselves in their
surroundings. This, in turn allowed them to have a feeling of soul
anchorage or the harnessing (of) each sites genus loci in creating it.87
Neutra formed a partnership with Robert Evans Alexander in the
late 1940s: Richard J. Neutra & Robert E. Alexander, Architects &
Planning Consultants in Los Angeles, California. Though Alexander
graduated from Cornell with an architecture degree, he was more of a
planner.88 Neutra and Alexander collaborated on the design for the
complex that Hines referred to as the ...dramatically sited museum and
visitor center for Painted Desert and Petrified Forest of Arizona.89
86 Boesigner, Richard Neutra, 84.
87 Boesigner, Richard Neutra52.
88Zeman, Painted Desert, 16.
89 Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 239.
Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona, in
Apache County. In 1906, as part of the Antiquities Act, President
Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument. Congress changed
its designation in 1962, when they declared it a national park. Today this
93,533-acre park is a land of spectacular beauty and rich geological
The Petrified Forest is a land of quiet grandeur and vivid
contrasts. It is also one of the worlds greatest storehouses
of knowledge about life on earth when the age of the
dinosaurs was just beginning. In fact, what is probably the
worlds largest concentration of highly colored petrified wood
occurs in the Petrified Forest together with the remains of
many other plants and animals that lived here at the same
In the 1930s the famous highway, Route 66, provided a convenient
route for tourists to visit the area. Of particular interest were the scenic
rock formations that were called the Painted Desert.
Navajos call the Painted Desert halchiitah, amidst the
colors. The lovely hues of blue and purple, white and gray,
pink and red, are the countrys trademark. One rock
formation in particular, the Chinle Formation, is largely
responsible for creating this pastel palette.90 91
On the south end of the park is the Rainbow Forest area. Here, the
structures were constructed with locally quarried grey sandstone cut in
90 Sidney Ash, Petrified Forest a Story in Stone (Petrified Forest National Park:
Petrified Forest Museum Association, 2005), 1.
91 Rose Houk, The Painted Desert Land of Light and Shadow (Petrified Forest
National Park: Petrified Forest Museum Association, 1990), 32.
random sizes (figure 4.8). The Visitor Center/Museum has large windows
that look out onto a hillside covered with the remains of petrified trees. A
door at the side of the auditorium, in the visitor center, leads to a trail that
meanders through the fossilized remains of these ancient trees. In the
museum section of the visitor center, exhibits display models of prehistoric
reptiles that roamed the land before dinosaurs (figure 4.9). The
development also includes park employee housing. A concessioners gift
shop is located on the opposite side of the road from the Park Service
structures. It was once a rustic style building, but during the Mission 66
era, the rustic fabric of the building was encased in an outer concrete shell
that gives the impression of stucco.
Figure 4.8 Rainbow Forest Visitor Center/Museum constructed with locally quarried grey
sandstone, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Figure 4.9 Rainbow Forest Visitor Center/Museum exhibits display models of prehistoric
reptiles that roamed the land before dinosaurs, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
Another structure located in the park, the Painted Desert Inn
Museum, which was built in 1920, sits on a bluff with a spectacular view of
the Painted Desert (figure 4.10). When the Park acquired the structure it
was decided to cover the exterior with stucco. This work was undertaken
by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The CCC also
made some of the furniture that is on display in the museum today. In
order to display the different layers of the history of the building, one
exterior wall was left showing the original building material petrified wood
(figure 4.11). The Painted Desert Inn was redesigned in the 1930s in a
Pueblo Revival style. According to Sara Allaback: these were the types
of buildings visitors expected to find in a national park.92 What the visitor
did not expect to find when they explored the national parks were modern
Figure 4.10 The Painted Desert Inn Museum, photograph by Jim Low, 2008.
92 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 146.
Figure 4.11 Painted Desert Inn the layers of history, photograph by Jim Low, 2008.
In 1958, as part of National Park Services Mission 66 building
program, the Painted Desert Complex was built on barren piece of land on
the east side of the only road through Petrified Forest National Park, a
short distance from Interstate 40 at Exit 311, and the Park entrance station
The purpose of the Painted Desert Complex was to provide the
Park Headquarters, a visitor center, a maintenance area, a gas station, a
gift shop with snack bar, and employee housing. The complex provides
services for visitors and residents, and offices for administration of the
Park. The complex has four distinct areas: a commercial area which
contains the administration building/visitor center, gift shop, snack bar,
service station, central plaza, and a park entrance station; an industrial
area with a maintenance area and garages; a recreation/education area
which includes a community building and a school; and a residential area
with houses, carports, a post office, and a trailer court.
Figure 4.12 The Painted Desert Complex viewed from the entrance to Petrified Forest
National Park, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
The design principles that influenced Neutra and Alexanders
design for the complex include: use of modern materials, climatic
considerations in order to provide human comfort; breezes blocked and/or
exploited, use of overhangs in his building designs to provide shade
(figure 4.13), arranging the structures that made up the complex in a
compact plan with a low profiles, separate public and private spaces,
courtyards with lush vegetation to pull the visitor or park service employee
out into nature (figure 4.16), and a total absence of windows and signage
on the outer wall of the gift shop.
Figure 4.13 Painted Desert Complex overhangs provide shade, photograph by Sandy
The front entry of the visitor center faces the public parking area,
which has spaces for about two hundred cars (figure 4.14). Administrative
offices are located on the second floor of the visitor center. Originally,
these second floor offices had an open balcony opening off from them,
with Boston Ivy in planter boxes spilling over the rail, above the
courtyard.93 Although the Park Service employees private and public
spaces are located in close proximity to the visitor center, Park visitors are
unaware of the functions of these buildings. Though the public and private
spaces share a common courtyard, the public buildings present their front
fagades towards the public, while the residences and maintenance
93 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 169.
facilities present their back fagades towards the public and face out to the
desert. The intent was to provide the employees families with privacy. To
continue the feeling of separateness, private courtyards were built
adjacent to each residence. The courtyards have concrete block walls
that help to block the wind, act as a sound barrier, and provide sheltered
Figure 4.14 The Visitor Center, Painted Desert Complex, administrative offices are
located on the second floor, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
| i| . ' ( u I ^
L-~~ -J l -w j U'
Housing fo aa
& ta/iu IM
^ filMlI wf
Visitor i /
Employees^-] Parking ^
' rJnrHer ' / <+**/
Figure 4.1 7 W*f *
Figure 4.16 The Central Plaza was to provide a lush oasis for the weary traveler,
photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
The topography of the site is very flat, covered with short prairie
grass and shrub brush. The buildings have a low profile, just like the
petrified trees that now lie stretched out, half-buried in the land. The flat
overhanging roofs and concrete block walls of the Painted Desert
Complex represent the minimalist modern design characteristics that
Neutra and Alexander advocated. The materials, too, are those used by
modernist designers: the foundations are concrete, steel is used for
framing, the walls are concrete block, glass, aluminum, stucco, and
weatherboard, and the roofs are covered with asphalt shingles, vinyl
membrane, and rock. There is no ornamentation. The original color
scheme that the designers used was a palette of bright blue, gold, rust
and yellow exterior colors along with a brilliant pristine white and tan
concrete block.94 The concrete in the courtyard was tinted an umber
color. In 1976, the color of the buildings was changed, causing the
buildings to disappear into the surrounding landscape, rather than
standing out as was characteristic of the Mission 66 structures: all
buildings were painted cliff brown with tobacco brown trim.95
Figure 4.17 Large windows in visitor center integrate the indoor space with the outdoor
space, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
94 John Milner Association, Inc, and LLP Woolpert, Painted Desert Community
Complex Historic District Cultural Landscape Report (2005), 22.
95 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 169.
Large windows in the visitor center look out into the courtyard,
serving both to let in light and integrate the indoor space with the outdoor
space (figure 4.17). The roof overhangs the walkways providing much
needed shade during the extremely hot, dry summer months.
A Fred Harvey restaurant, gift shop, and service station are located
on the west side of courtyard. To avoid the complex resembling a
shopping mall, the architects design featured a front fagade devoid of
windows and signage.96 In the gift shop, the visitor may purchase Route
66 memorabilia or samples of petrified wood that have been harvested
outside the Park boundaries. The service station is located to the west of
the gift shop and a contiguous blank wall runs from the gift shop to the
service station office.
On the east side of the concessioners building, fourteen original
floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the courtyard have been removed in an
effort to conserve energy as a great deal of heat was lost through them
during the winter and increased cooling was required during the summer
months.97 Today, ten much-smaller windows look out over the courtyard.
The overhang that shades these windows is supported by five columns
covered with small ceramic tiles arranged in a random pattern.98
The apartment wing is located across from the concession building
and is perpendicular to the visitor center. The buildings rear fagade is
covered with random shaped sandstone blocks; this is the elevation that
96 Allaback, Mission 66 Visitor Center, 165.
97 Milner and Woolpert, Painted Desert, 23.
98 Zeman, Painted Desert, 13.
forms one side of the central plaza. This two-story building houses four
apartments on each floor."
The architects envisioned the central plaza as a cool, shaded,
green oasis where the visitor would have a chance to rest (figure 4.18).
In a brochure, Homes for National Park Service Families on a Wind-
Swept Desert, prepared for this project, Neutra and Alexander explained:
The typical visitor to Petrified Forest, unlike visitors to some
other installations, has traveled three or four hours across a
hot, arid, barren desert. After a brief visit to the rest room,
he will appreciate nothing as much as a cool, shaded, green
oasis protected from the incessant wind.99 100
The plantings recommended by Neutra and Alexander were to be
interpretative of the Triassic landscape of 225 million years ago. Neutra
felt that using dwarf versions of cultivars descended from the primeval
forests would be a good interpretive tool. At great expense, and after
extensive negotiation, a modern day relative of the Parks petrified trees,
Araucaria imbricate, was ordered from Chile, however they were found to
be dead when they arrived and were not reordered.101 Neutras
recommended plant list included Mormon Tea, Narrow Leafed Yucca,
Sand Sage, Black Sage, Cholla, Evening Primrose, Cliff Rose,
99 Architecture 2000, P.C., Historic Structures Report, Painted Desert Community
Complex, Petrified Forest National Park (2006), 1.2-11.
100 Richard J. Neutra, and Robert E. Alexander. Homes for National Park Service
Families on a Wind-Swept Desert (Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch
Library, Cornell University Library Ithaca), 19.
101 Milner and Woolpert, Painted Desert Community, 12.
Greasewood, Juniper, Hollygrape, and Pinyon Pine.102 Originally 3,000
plants and 3,430 lbs of grass seed were planted.103 According to John
Milners Cultural Landscape Report, most of the plants in the plan were
not native to Arizona. Today, the vegetation is a mix of what has survived
from the original plan, and whatever the Park Service has planted in the
intervening years, as well as invasive plants such as Bunchgrass.
The hardscape of the plaza includes textured concrete stained an
umber color, sandstone planter boxes with a seating edge, sandstone
benches, and a reflecting pool lined with smooth river rock that was
intended to entice the visitor across the courtyard. The materials and
elements used in the courtyard have a variety of textures: river rock,
wood, textured concrete divided by thin lines of smooth concrete, and
Neutra and Alexander tried to choreograph the experience in which
a visitor would navigate the site:
[The visitor] would follow under a shady roof projection
[along] a solid wall without any displays or advertisings to the
entrance of the visitor and information center proper and ...
would gain a most attractive view into the wind protected and
landscaped Plaza. Once he had entered this plaza with his
interest fixed first on a carefully considered group of
plantings, reflecting water, and nightly illumination, all in the
southeast corner of this plaza area, he would have to the
north before him the entrance and display front of the Fred
Harvey Trading Center, Restaurant and Lunch Room.104
102 Milner and Woolpert, Painted Desert Community\2.
103 Zeman, Painted Desert, 26.
104 Zeman, Painted Desert, 26.
Figure 4.18 The Central Plaza envisioned as an oasis, photograph by Sayre Hutchison,
A second plaza is located between the central plaza and the
residences. Today, it consists of raised mounds planted haphazardly with
a few shrubs (figure 4.19). It contrasts directly with the geometric, modern
feel of the central plaza. Neutra and Alexanders original design for this
space was never implemented. It was to have an organic natural feel in
contrast with the geometric design of the central courtyard. A meandering
pathway was to wind between heavily planted areas. Trees were to
provide shade and delineate the edges of the plaza.105
105 Milner and Woolpert, Painted Desert Community, 13-14.
Figure 4.19 The Second Plaza, photograph by Sandy Low, 2008.
When Neutra and Alexander planned the residences, their primary
goal was to provide privacy and protection from the wind. They took their
cue from the previous dwellers on the land thirteen hundred years ago,
who had built their dwellings close together in a compound and lived close
to nature. They wrote in their prospectus that The Dream Home in
everyones mind is the separate, isolated cottage in the midst of
untouched nature, this was not practical for the Painted Desert Complex;
instead they advocated a compact sheltered space:
The home could put its back to the wind and look out only,
onto the shelter court. The patio would be small enough so
that intensive preparations, sub-irrigation and reasonable