We are more than a little excited for the opportunity to design the new backcountry huts for the American Prairie Reserve (APR). Their work in Montana has inspired each of us here at Love | Schack.
For those who don’t know, the American Prairie Reserve is a nonprofit organization fully dedicated to creating the most extensive natural refuge for people and wildlife in the continental US on the North Central Montana grasslands. Their unique model combines the productivity of the land through recreation with wildlife and natural habitat conservation. Their goal to conserve 3.5 million acres is one of the most ambitious conservation projects of our time.
Love | Schack team member, Lotus Grenier began conversations with Mike Quist Kautz, APR’s Recreation Director, to brainstorm possible solutions that would not only stand up to the harsh prairie environment but also amplify visitor’s experiences and their connection to the landscape. They decided that huts would be the best solution.
Preliminary site visits are one of the most exciting aspects of an architecture project, so you can imagine the team’s anticipation when planning our visit to one of the most beautiful areas in the country. This particular site visit was a bit more adventurous than usual, as just getting to the Reserve from Bozeman takes over 3 hours.
The real adventure ensued as we navigated the prairie backroads with an eye to the sky to ensure we beat the thunderstorms that turn all the dirt roads in the area to slime, and all there is to do is wait until the dry prairie drinks in the rain. But, like most challenging things worth doing, arriving at the site late in the longest summer day to experience the light on the Missouri River, wade through the tall prairie grasses, and inspect the hundreds of blooming wildflowers was all the reward we needed.
With the knowledge of both the challenges with traveling to the site and the payoff for that effort, it was clear that the visitor huts had to be designed to contribute to a memorable experience for guests and be maximally functional and efficient due to their backcountry nature. The goal was to create spaces where visitors would feel comfortable and protected from the elements, but still intimately connected to the landscape.
The idea is that people will protect what they connect with and care about, and so, ultimately, we want the huts to be a place where people fall in love with the prairie and see the importance of making sure this special place is protected for generations to come.
The visitor huts have been oriented for maximum solar exposure and, of course, the magnificent views. Our design features water catchment, composting toilets, one site that has a wind-sheltered covered porch facing out toward the rolling hills, and another that overlooks the Missouri River.
Due to the structures being built in undisturbed areas of the Reserve with ancient soil, sensitivity to the site was a primary consideration when thinking about design and the impact of construction. The design team was mindful of how materials would settle into the landscape and how they would be affected by the weather over time, which led to elevating the huts on structural piers and having them sided with durable wood and metal siding. Maintaining a visual connection to the prairie from every room led to the strategic placement of windows in each bunk, exterior doors that open right to the hills, and clerestory windows that bring the ever-changing sky into the space.
This has been one of the most exciting projects we’ve had the opportunity to work on and we can’t wait to return for a visit to see the first completed hut this fall! We’ll be sure to share photos of the first completed cabin and the experience with you.
APR’s hut system is currently available to the public and not restricted to donor access. Plan your visit to bike, hike and see wildlife this summer while the cabins are being completed, and reserve your stay in one of their yurts here: Hut System