The Museum at Prairiefire Blends Natural and Man-Made Materials to Create an Architectural Icon on the Midwestern Prairie


The Museum at Prairiefire is more than a building—it is a work of art that rises from the prairie to tell a story of geology, culture and the practice of prairie landscape management through intentional burns. The standout architectural marvel, with a stone-clad backdrop that represents the undulating hillside, is alive with fiery sparks of color, which seem to flicker based on the time of day and the viewing angle. According to Jonathan Kharfen, AIA and LEED senior associate, Verner Johnson, Inc. (Boston, MA), “At dusk, strategically placed LED lights twinkle along the low red site walls like dying embers as evening sets in.”  The fire element is represented by a unique film material and the stones range from a myriad of colors as you move about the ultra-modern structure.  The stonework is a mix of regionally-source natural limestone and manufactured stone veneer from Oldcastle’s Echelon product line, set by the masterful hands of D&D Masonry, a company with the skillset Kharfen needed to complete his vision.

Located in Overland Park, Kansas, with a population of close to 184,000, the museum is part of a recent project called Prairiefire, a 60-acre mixed use suburban development, including shops and restaurants, entertainment venues, a wetlands park, residences, and the museum.  Conceived and spearheaded by developer Fred Merrill, Founder and President of Merrill Companies, the museum’s focus is a rotation of exhibits from New York City’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), but also includes a Children’s Discovery Room.  The Grand Hall is the museum’s expansive public space, featuring permanent native Kansas archeological specimens and interactive exhibits, and serving as a spectacular events venue. 

The Museum at Prairiefire, with its seamless blend of natural and man-made materials, the incredible colored film that creates a kaleidoscope of colors against the exquisitely crafted stone backdrop, serves as a living tribute to the prairie. Like a splendid Phoenix rising from the char and ashes, the Museum at Prairiefire will dazzle visitors for generations to come.