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UW students/faculty to design new visitor center for American Camp

studentsFRIDAY HARBOR, WA--Faculty and students from the University Of Washington's College Of Built Environments spent Saturday and Sunday (January 7-8) with park staff exploring San Juan Island National Historical Park as part of a process to design a permanent visitor center at American Camp.

The UW team, led by Professors Ken Yocom and Manish Chalana, is among nine colleges and universities in December to conduct interdisciplinary studios with seven national parks on site-specific visitor center designs. Over the course of the spring 2012 semester, each studio will explore design solutions that broadly address the challenges facing the national park system today.

The competition, entitled "Parks for the People: A Studio Competition to Reimagining America's National Parks," is sponsored by the National Parks Service and Van Allen Institute, is an independent nonprofit architectural organization, founded in 1894, whose mission is to pro­mote innovative thinking about the role of architecture and design in civic life.

Interdisciplinary teams from 35 design schools, colleges and universities entered the fall semester competition, interest that Jarvis called impressive.

"Judges were faced with a rich variety of approaches that encompass architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, planning, ecology, preservation, the fine arts, and exhibition and web design," said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. "It will be interesting to see how the teams react when they apply vision to the landscape and the national park visitor experience.

Now that the teams have presented their vision to the judges, they must now collaborate with the parks to find ways to promote sustainability, inspire stewardship, empower youth, and foster dynamic connections among parks, communities and natural systems, Jarvis said.

San Juan Island NHP was considered an ideal candidate as since 1977 it has been conducting primary visitor center operations from a double-wide trailer at American Camp. The students spent several hours touring the park and querying the staff, including Chief of Interpretation Mike Vouri and Chief of Integrated Resources Jerald Weaver. Plans are in the works to take public comment during a a forum planned for mid-February in Friday Harbor.

Weaver and Vouri accompanied acting Superintendent Steve Gibbons on visit to the campus on Wednesday. They introduced the class of 23 to the park and discussed the park's challenges in attending to visitors and sustaining its goals of perseveration and protection of cultural and natural resources.

"We've challenged the most ambitious design studios in America to show us the park of the 21st century," said Olympia Kazi, executive director of the Van Alen Institute, which is the primary collaborator with the National Park Service for ‘Parks for the People.'

"We're urging these terrific teams to think boldly — through deeply-researched design — about how parks can respond to their communities at a time of cultural and ecological change.

We look forward to visions that will help us sustain and celebrate the sensational treasures," she added.

The "Parks for the People" competition grew out of the 2008 Designing the Parks conference sponsored by the National Park Service, Van Alen Institute, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, The Institute at the Golden Gate, National Parks Conservation Association, University of Virginia and the George Wright Society.

Van Alen and the NPS assembled the national design advisory committee to shape the competition and judge the entries. Team entries explore the designing the parks principles and address specific park projects, but may

also investigate design and planning solutions that consider the way a modern visitor of any age, ethnicity, and ability relates to any national park and its story.

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