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.
Our work with APR began when Love | Schack team member, Lotus Grenier reached out to solve problems with the durability and functionality of their current visitor yurts, which had already been replaced. Lotus began conversations with Mike Quist Kautz, APR’s recreation manager 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 of 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 hrs.
The real adventure ensued as we navigated the prairie backroads with a constant eye to the sky to ensure we beat the thunderstorms that turn all the dirt roads to gumbo, 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 needed.
With the knowledge of both the challenges of getting to the place and payoff for that effort, it was clear that the 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. People will protect what they connect to and care about, 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 around for generations to come.
The huts have been oriented for maximum solar aspect and, of course, the magnificent views. Our design features water catchment, composting toilets and a wind-sheltered covered porch facing out toward the rolling hills at one site, and that overlooks the Missouri River at the other.
Because the structures will be built in undisturbed areas of the Reserve with over 300-year-old soil, sensitivity to the site was a primary consideration when thinking about design and the impact of construction.
Mindful of how materials would settle into the landscape and the weather over time led to designing the huts to be elevated on structural piers and sided with durable wood and metal siding. Maintaining a connection to the prairie from every room lead to the strategic placement of windows in each bunk, exterior doors that open right to the hills, and a clearstory that brings the ever changing sky into the space.
Want to learn more about the American Prairie Reserve? Visit their website to find out how you can support this important project and to plan your visit to this special place.
Interested in finding out how we can bring value to your project? Contact us to start a conversation: http://loveschackarchitecture.com/take-action/