Design Inspiration: Parkitecture

It is Earth Day – a time to celebrate our magnificent planet. At TBA we love to go outdoors. Many of us hike, bike, run, or surf. Some of us camp or stargaze in our protected wildernesses: our National and State Parks. Parks play a critical role in providing wildlife habitats, clean water and clean air, and conserving natural resources. And research shows that exploring these parks can help us, too: fighting chronic diseases, relieving stress and depression, promoting stronger immune systems, and more.

One way we combine our love of nature with our passion for historic architecture is by drawing inspiration from original National Park hotels and lodges.

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant decreed Yellowstone the nation’s first national park, followed by Sequoia and Yosemite by the late 1890s. By 1906, Theodore Roosevelt had established five new national parks: Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Sully’s Hill, North Dakota, Mesa Verde, Colorado; and Platt, Oklahoma.

With the founding of the National Park Service in 1916, an increasing number of parks needed shelter for visitors and lodging facilities. Landscape architect Thomas Chalmers Vint and architect Herbert Maier promoted a rustic design style idealizing a “back-to-nature” aesthetic and advocating the use of natural, local building materials.

100 years later, TBA draws inspiration from these magnificent structures – often referred to as “Parkitecture” or “NPS Rustic” – and the commitment to using local, natural materials; “growing” from the surrounding landscape.

In a recent ground-up residence in a Santa Monica canyon, we utilized Will Rogers State Historic Park (donated to the California State Parks System in 1944) as inspiration. With exposed rafter tails, covered balconies, and a version of timber walls used in the outbuildings, we sited the house carefully between ancient live oak trees to capture daylight all day long. Slate roofing, cedar siding, and copper gutters make use of local materials. Working with landscape architect Laurie Lewis Design, we also integrated river rock in the foundations, chimneys, and landscape features. With interior designer Kristen Panitch and contractor Valle Reinis Builders, we integrated pine paneling, reclaimed oak floors, and counterweighted brass chains to lift large wood windows once seen in the lodges. Then we painted it a deep brown – in homage to our favorite National Park structures.

Exterior Side Elevation New Residence
Exterior side elevation of the new residence.
Fireplaces Will Rogers Homestead
New outdoor fireplace (left), inspired by Will Rogers homestead (right).
Timber Walls Will Rogers Homestead
The home integrated river rock in chimneys and walls (left). The timber walls resemble an updated version of walls used in ational parks outbuildings and the historic Will Rogers home (right).

In honor of Earth Day, we share a few of our favorite structures that celebrate our nation’s great outdoors.

Yellowstone National Park

The Old Faithful Inn was launched by architect Robert C. Reamer and hotelier Harry W. Child. Constructed between June 1903 and June 1904, the towering lobby features a 500-ton rhyolite chimney on a massive stone fireplace and a hand-crafted clock made of copper, wood, and wrought iron. Logs are used everywhere: the porch posts, balcony railings, the dining room trusses – even the chairs! A whimsical tree house tops its 76.5-foot peak. This sprawling wilderness log cabin has electricity, steam heat, and indoor plumbing.

Old Faithful Inn Jim Peaco
The front of Old Faithful Inn (Jim Peaco, NPS).
Old Faithful Lobby Jim Peaco
Old Faithful Inn's lobby (Jim Peaco, NPS).

Crater Lake National Park

When Crater Lake Lodge opened in 1915, the average winter snowfall was 533 inches. The construction season was limited to only three summer months, slowing construction and driving up project costs. To compensate, the structure is very simple. The exterior has a local granite first floor, with cedar-shingled walls above. The hipped gable roofs with dozens of shed dormers stand up to the heavy snow. The interior walls were finished with a thin cardboard-like wallboard called “beaver board” and there were no private baths. The only electricity came from a small generator. Ninety years later, the lodge was renovated top-to-toe, and reopened in 1994.

Crater Lake Lodge Historic Hotels Of America
Crater Lake Lodge (Historic Hotels of America).
Crater Lake Lodge Lobby Liveruntravel.com
The lodge’s lobby (liveloveruntravel.com).

And throughout the park, native stones were heavily utilized throughout visitor and maintenance buildings. Massive boulders make up the lower half of the impeccable Crater Lake Superintendent Residence, some reaching five feet across. The timber beams form a dramatically pitched cedar shake roof.

Maintenance Buildings Crater Lake
Crater Lake Superintendent Residence (left, NoeHill) and Comfort Station no. 68 (right, Ian Poellet, Wikimedia).

Yosemite National Park

Gilbert Stanley Underwood’s 121-room Ahwahnee hotel opened in 1927. Sited to allow maximum exposure to the sun to allow for natural heating, it also captures views of Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. Three different three-story wings surround a central six-story tower, with large-scale granite chimneys, log-beamed ceilings, and massive stone hearths. To help reduce the risk of fire, the building was made mostly of steel, granite, and concrete that was stained to look like it was made from wood. Our friends at Architectural Resources Group designed seismic upgrades last year and have given The Ahwahnee new fire systems, accessibility upgrades, conservation of original finishes and furnishings, and selective renovation of the lodge’s 24 cottages over the years.

The Ahwahnee NPS
The Ahwahnee (NPS).
The Ahwahnee Great Lounge
The Ahwahnee’s Great Lounge (NPS).

We encourage you to visit our favorite National Park places – a great way to celebrate Earth Day all year long!