MSU Ozarks Education Center is a Gateway for Learning

Immersed in the landscape of the Ozark Mountains, the Missouri State University (MSU) Ozarks Education Center in Cedarcreek, Mo., promotes ecology research through a unique experiential lens. Sitting on approximately 3 acres on the shores of Bull Shoals lake within the Drury-Mincy Conservation, the center provides a new resource for the school to expand both educational and ecological research initiatives, as well as outreach for the College of Natural and Applied Sciences. It is also a project of healing and transformation for the landscape, turning a site of previous destruction into a space that celebrates nature, community, learning and stewardship of the natural environment.

Education center promotes ecological research of the Ozarks

By Marcy Marro

Photo: Kelly Callewaert

Simple Forms

Architects at BNIM, Kansas City, Mo., were inspired by the Ozarks region, and guided by the concept of designing with a light touch, both physically and sustainably on the natural environment. Designed as a simple form nestled into the surrounding topography, the 4,310-square-foot center features local materials and natural textures, while also reflecting the area’s ecology.

Open to MSU students and faculty, researchers, community partners, high school students and nature-focused organizations, the center offers a variety of academic programs, workshops and events. It has classroom/program space, field equipment, a communal dining area and residential kitchen for groups up to 60 people. Located down the hill are three naturally ventilated residential cabins, which can accommodate 12 overnight guests. Offering expansive views of the forest, the site is planned for five or more cabins. The main building also accommodates three overnight guests.

Photo: Kelly Callewaert

At the heart of the education center is a dog trot that orientates visitors to the site’s natural elements. Designed on an east-west orientation, visitors can enjoy the sunrise and sunset within this space. A pair of barn doors allow the dog trot to be closed off, while also acting as a damper for the wind that naturally cools the space. A roof oculus is the focal point of the space that seeks to emphasize connection to sky, earth and cardinal directions, a design concept guided by Native American values and an acknowledgement of the Indigenous Land on which the project is built.

Additionally, a roof oculus creates a multisensory experience. “The roof oculus and orientation of the dog trot connect visitors to the landscape by emphasizing the rising and setting of the sun or passage of the day through shadows that move across the space via the ceiling oculus,” says April Trotter, associate architect at BNIM.

Photo: Kelly Callewaert

Interpretations and Connections

According to Josh Harrold, AIA, NCARB, associate principal at BNIM, the design for the Ozarks Education Center is based on their current interpretation and connection to contextual or vernacular architecture of the Ozarks. “The project is rooted in both the natural context and the vernacular building context,” he says. “We developed a series of diagrams that started with the basic parti of a rural Ozark residence we simply called the Hillbilly Shack and seen thorough out the hills and hollers of the Ozarks. We took that basic prosaic massing and through a series of operations manipulated that basic parti to suite our project specificity with the basis remaining that initial understanding of the Ozark from.”

As Harrold describes, these operations included stretching the simple massing, introducing the dog trot, extending the porch overhangs and incorporating regional materials into the project. As such, the site planning that separates the cabins from the main structure is reminiscent of rural dwellings that have a series of out buildings such as barns, sheds, well houses, outhouses and other structures found in the rural Ozarks area. “The dog trot itself has precedent in Missouri as we looked to some of the oldest structures in Missouri and the region such as the Adams Cabin from 1885 in Mount Vernon, Mo., or the Jacob Wolf house from 1825, just south in Northwest Arkansas,” he says.

Diagram courtesy of BNIM

Passive Design Strategies

To enhance building performance and occupant comfort, the Ozarks Education Center implements passive sustainable strategies. These include enhanced air flow across the site, operable windows and large roof overhangs to protect the glazing. The way the building is orientated captures the cool breezes coming from the creek valley below, allowing the main building’s common space and the cabins to be naturally cooled with low and high operable windows and natural cross ventilation. The orientation also allows for views of the woods and rising and setting sun.

“The glass is shaded by 10-foot overhangs that covers a back porch and give the impression of a front porch,” explains Trotter. “Based on the orientation views to nature and woods are always present in the main building. The cabins are intentionally sited to be opaque facing the main building for privacy with only high operable windows for natural cross ventilation. The west face of the cabins is all glass with a porch extension that looks out into the woods and a quiet place to sit after a long day of research in the Ozark hills.”

Diagram courtesy of BNIM

Additionally, bioswales are used for water control with native plants that protect the lake, reduce erosion, and create and restore a healthy ecosystem to the existing site. Domestic water is provided by an on-site well, and black water is treated on-site by a specialized system that focuses on water quality and the unique rocky soil conditions of the region. The building is also set up for roof-mounted photovoltaics, allowing it to be completely off the grid once installed.

For the project, approximately 3,400 square feet of 1-inch Tee-Panel standing seam panels in Matte Black from Berridge Manufacturing Co., San Antonio, as well as Colorado Springs, Colo.-based S-5! Color Guard integrated snow retention system. Berridge’s FW-12 formed metal wall panels without grooves in Matte Black are used on the barn doors and cabin siding.

The aim of the MSU Ozarks Education Center is to help foster a stewardship and community capacity among visitors to pursue research, to celebrate and to maintain the unique Ozarks landscape and natural resources of the region. Since opening, MSU has been able to support a large group of geology students for a month-long program at the center, as well as a series of small student groups throughout the year.

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