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For the second-floor Discovery Room’s stone balcony, which provides a view of the wetlands park at the site, integrating stone into the façade proved a difficult challenge. “The design intent was for this cantilevered stone promontory to be a special space for kids,” said Kharfen, “with the balcony completely wrapped in stone, even its sloping soffits.”With a requirement for such a unique geometric shape, matching the rest of the building’s stone façade and within code tolerance, the balcony posed the project’s greatest obstacle.
With the help of Echelon, Kharfen identified a system which allowed kerfed stone to sit in a lipped track, which mechanically holds the stone in place, despite the gravity load of the sloping soffit. The two long sides of each stone are secured in the track top and bottom. To make sure the sloped soffit system was safe, Project masons D&D Masonry created a mock-up in a Kansas City vocational facility. They were able to simulate how the soffit system would be installed and how the stone would sit securely in the track system. “There were no issues at all, it turned out great,” said Kharfen. “It looks like a monumental stone emerging off the face of the building.”
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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.