Van Alen and National Park Service select finalists to re-imagine visitor experience at national parks

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The Falls Gorge and bridge, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Paterson, NJ. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

The Falls Gorge and bridge, Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

The Van Alen Institute and the National Park Service (NPS) have announced four finalists in their competition to modernize visitor experience at four national parks. While the National Parks Now competition aims to “[design] the 21st Century National Park experience,” it’s about more than launching an app or two and boosting WiFi signals.

Roundhouse and turntable, Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, PA. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

Roundhouse and turntable, Steamtown National Historic Site. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

(Courtesy the Van Alen Institute)

(Courtesy the Van Alen Institute)

Each interdisciplinary team—which is comprised of young architects, landscape architects, graphic designers, urban planners, branding experts, engagement specialists and educators—was handed a $15,000 stipend to develop strategies to connect national parks with a new generation of visitors. This includes launching hands-on workshops, self-guided tours, interactive installations, engagement campaigns, and developing tools to give the parks a larger, and more diverse, audience.

The strategies would be implemented at one of four New York City-area parks: Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay, New York, the estate of President Theodore Roosevelt; Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a monument to the steam locomotive; Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park in Paterson, New Jersey, a birthplace of American textile manufacturing; and Weir Farm National Historic Site in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the summer estate of artist Julian Alden Weir.

Theodore Roosevelt's house, where the 26th President lived from 1885 until his death in 1919, has historically been the focus for park visitors. Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Oyster Bay, NY. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

Where Theodore Roosevelt lived from 1885 until his death in 1919. At the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

Next spring, one team will be crowned the winner and be given an additional $10,000 to implement one of its strategies over the summer. That prototype will serve as a model for the NPS as it celebrates its centennial in 2016. “As we look back at the 100-year legacy of the National Park Service, it’s also a perfect time to look creatively at the visitor experience at several select park units and consider new ways to share park stories and respond to audience needs,” Gay Vietzke, the deputy regional director of the NPS Northeast region, said in a statement. “National Parks Now is a truly innovative—and necessary—effort to ensure national parks are relevant in the 21st century.”

Weir Farm National Historic Site recently opened the fully restored and historically furnished Weir House, Weir Studio, and Young Studio, which have never before been open to the public. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

Weir Farm National Historic Site. (Courtesy Van Alen Institute)

More on each team, and their individual proposals, courtesy of the Van Alen Institute.

Sagamore Hill:

According to the Van Alen Institute: Team Wayward / Projects is led by Putri Trisulo with Prem Krishnamurthy, Katie Okamoto, Alfons Hooikaas, Ben DuVall, Heather Ring, Amy Seek, Thomas Kendall, and Jarred Henderson. Their project, OKParks!, will create a symbiotic partnership model capitalizing on the existing audiences and curatorial resources of prominent cultural institutions to reinterpret histories and reinvigorate Sagamore Hill.

Steamtown:

According to the Van Alen Institute: Led by Abigail Smith-Hanby of FORGE with Ashley Ludwig, Andrew Dawson, Max Lozach, and CJ Gardella. Team FORGE proposes to weave together stories and information in order to root Steamtown within the larger American cultural landscape.

Paterson Great Falls:

According to the Van Alen Institute: Led by Manuel Miranda of the Yale School of Art with Frances Medina, Mariana Mogilevich, Valeria Mogilevich, June Williamson, and Willy Wong. The team will explore retrofitting the park to engage the city, retelling the site’s history to engage contemporary audiences, and representing the site to new publics.

Weir Farm:

According to the Van Alen Institute: Led by Aaron Forrest of the Rhode Island School of Design and Principal of Ultramoderne with Yasmin Vobis, Suzanne Mathew, Noah Klersfeld, Dungjai Pungauthaikan, and Jessica Forrest. The team will look at introducing site-specific, contemporary artistic practices to Weir Farm in order to develop new perspectives on the site and the region’s history and ecology.

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