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For an environment to be considered sustainable, one basic human need that must be present is ‘community’. A place cannot survive for generations without inhabitants feeling connected in some regard to a larger group, and sharing in some common endeavor. Museums are a unique typology, combining public, civic, and community-building qualities in a way that other building types – such as malls, city halls, and airports – are unable to do. This new Museum enables this social dimension of sustainability in an anomalous environment: the suburb. Located within a mixed-use 60-acre development, the Museum creates a sense of place in an area dominated by malls, parking lots and housing developments, imparting to traditional market-driven suburban sprawl, a viable long-term sustainability it would not otherwise possess.

To engage the community, the goal of the Museum is to inspire excitement and discovery. The architectural vehicle to do this is drawn from local inspirations. The design concept evokes the imagery of one of the most unique aspects of the Kansas tallgrass prairie: the prairie fire burns. The power of the colorful and sculptural design, and the educational and cultural values it embodies promotes a sense of community by I intentionally contrasting with its surroundings, yet engaging with them by its prairie-specific references.

The controlled burns are a beneficial tool in the prairie’s preservation and management. With an architectural concept that is itself rooted in sustainability, the Museum design and construction need to embody environmentally sound practices as well. The building is pursuing LEED certification and is targeting a Silver rating.

The project embraces a number of strategies to reduce energy use. The envelope is highly efficient with R-25 walls with an additional layer of R-8.4 continuous insulation. Low-e glazing with low U-values is used throughout. Daylighting strategies are employed with timed controls and automatically dimming fixtures. LED lighting fixtures are installed extensively. The HVAC system uses energy recovery wheels to pre-condition outside air. To reduce carbon footprint, regional materials are used where possible, such as the stainless steel panels and local Kansas limestone used on the façades. Materials with recycled content include steel rebar, structural steel, stainless steel panels, metal and PVC roofing, and recycled aggregate in masonry units. This also includes structural steel for the curtainwall system, which has more recycled content than traditional aluminum systems. The quantity of materials used is reduced by combining the roof and curtainwall support systems, and by utilizing wall shafts and ceiling plenums for return air in lieu of ductwork.