Lecture discusses architects’ input on Yellowstone

Thursday, Nov. 3, the Museum of the Rockies hosted a lecture titled “Avatar: The Edges of Yellowstone.” The talk detailed a project that has been going on in Yellowstone National Park for the past nine years to bring students and professional architecture firms together in an effort to improve Yellowstone. The talk featured three speakers: Suzanne Lewis, the former superintendent of Yellowstone Park; Paul Bertelli, senior design principal and president of JLF & Associates; and John Brittingham, a full professor of architecture at MSU. Each speaker detailed their involvement in the project.

Starting in 2007, Yellowstone Park has hosted three major charrettes or “a time when people gather with a good amount of intensity to examine an issue and try to walk away with a better, more collective knowledge for having done so,” Lewis said. Each charrette was funded by the Yellowstone Park Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting, preserving, and enhancing Yellowstone. The purpose of these charrettes was to bring together professionals in the field of architecture and students to try to solve some of the major challenges Yellowstone faces. Some say Yellowstone is being “loved to death,” Lewis said, “4 million people seeking their personal experience in that Park is not sustainable, it’s not sustainable financially, it’s not sustainable socially without some major changes in the Park.” The hope of the charrettes was to create some viable solutions to these challenges.

The first charrette took place at Lake Lodge in 2007. Lake is an iconic area in Yellowstone and represents “one of the finest nationally significant examples of a historic park hotel” according to Brittingham. The goal of the Lake charrette was to find ways to restore historic buildings in this part of the park and connect the historical architectural assets with the natural landscape. The hope is to make Lake more accessible to visitors, allowing for more pathways that better access the lakefront and water, and allow visitors to walk away with a clearer understanding of the area and the ongoing fisheries conservation that has been taking place all around Yellowstone Lake.

The second charrette took place in 2009 at Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the most visited place in Yellowstone Park. Brittingham claimed that “overtime the Old Faithful developed area has become congested, confusing, and chaotic for the visitor,” and that “the experience of this natural place has lost much of its natural power.” This second charrette was aimed to better direct the flow of people so as to enhance each person’s experience while lessening congestion and crowding.

The last charrette took place in 2010 at Mammoth near the north entrance of Yellowstone. The historical significance of this area, namely the arch and the importance of the fort and military landscape, are overshadowed by crowding and parking dilemmas. This is also a part of the park that experiences routine encounters between elk and pedestrians. The charrette hoped to create a design that emphasized the historical significance and natural wonder of the area.

These charrettes were an exercise in brainstorming, creativity, collaboration and planning. Many people came together, almost all of whom volunteered their time to do so, from across a diverse landscape of experiences and skill sets to create designs that will help Yellowstone more sustainably host its 4 million yearly visitors. The outcomes of the charrettes were chronicled and were instrumental in Yellowstone’s latest comprehensive master planning efforts. Fellow attendee Dan Penoyer, a student in the college of Business at MSU, said, “it’s cool to see all these students doing stuff they’ve been learning in class in a way that is so beneficial to Yellowstone.”