This poster was presented at A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
By Kathleen Conti and Hannah Simonson
Despite being one of the US’s premier national parks, Badlands National Park (BADL) struggles to attract and satisfy visitors due to its outdated infrastructure and lackluster presentation of natural and cultural resources from the area. Additional environmental and managerial challenges undermine BADL’s ability to facilitate continued preservation and conservation through education and interpretation. BADL contains the world’s largest collection of late Eocene and Oligocene mammal fossils and the nation’s only interactive fossil laboratory; unfortunately, the lab only operates in the summer in a makeshift and non-secure classroom. Through a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture (UTSOA) and the NPS, we embarked on a yearlong project to preserve and reinvigorate the cultural landscape of Cedar Pass, BADL’s main developed area. Cedar Pass is significant at the state level as a historic district under criterion A and C for early tourism, CCC development, and Mission 66 architecture and planning; the period of significance for the proposed historic district is 1928 to 1966.
In our presentation, we examine the BADL’s complex past, its troubled present, and its threatened future, focusing the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and administration complex within Cedar Pass. Designed by Cecil Doty, the Visitor Center was completed in 1959 and featured quintessential elements of Doty’s “Park Service Modern” design vocabulary, including low, horizontal massing, a flat roof, large picture windows, a porch viewing area facing the dramatic landscape, and exterior materials chosen to complement the color and texture of the surrounding environment. Over the past decades, the visitor center has seen a number of renovations and additions that damaged the integrity of the cultural landscape while also failing to fully address visitor needs. While many changes have occurred since the Visitor Center’s original construction, some important elements have survived and should be preserved. Doty’s design—from the roads and parking lots to the Visitor Center itself—fulfilled the NPS’s dual mandate of preserving nature while enhancing visitor experience. Our design emphasizes the Mission 66 mandate of conservation and preservation through education while planning for the future.
We argue that a successful plan forward must thoroughly take into account the park’s rich history, the importance of preserving the cultural landscape of Cedar Pass, and the need to improve the visitor experience. Our design interventions include a permanent paleontology lab, museum displays that reflect its rich history, and interactive and accessible learning exhibits for visitors of all ages and backgrounds. We have reestablished many of the connections between the built and the natural environment, such as exposing the porch and reopening the original windows improves visitor experience by linking educational displays with the outdoors. This rehabilitation will also serve as an interpretive opportunity to show guests the importance of preservation and cultural landscapes.
The interactive principles that we propose are adaptable to changing conditions in the future and will be applicable to other National Parks to ensure that our natural, cultural and historic resources are preserved for future generations, both in the Badlands and beyond.
Kathleen Conti is simultaneously pursuing a Masters of Science in Historic Preservation at the University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation studies the inception and professionalization of historic preservation as a distinct area of expertise, focusing on international cooperation among practitioners in the US and the USSR. Seeking to use history to affect public policy, she has worked with the Maier Museum of Art, National D-Day Memorial, and most recently with Badlands National Park as part of the UT-Austin Centennial Studio with the NPS.
Hannah Simonson is a graduate student in Historic Preservation at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture, focuses her studies on issues of recent past preservation in modernist architecture and design. She graduated from Reed College in 2011 with a BA in Religion with an emphasis on Islamic art, architecture, and material culture. In fall 2015, she worked with the National Park Service on a preservation plan for Badlands National Park as part of an integrated design studio, and is continuing this project as a research assistant to develop design guidelines for the sustainable preservation of cultural landscapes.