When Boston-based architecture practice Verner Johnson was tapped to design the $17.3 million Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kansas, it saw an opportunity to push back against the area’s new suburban sprawl with a site-specific project. Drawing from the region’s landscape history and their experience with museum design, the architects crafted a building that brings the prairie fires of the American Great Plains to life with a striking flame-inspired facade made with dichroic glass. The composite glass also doubles as insulation, which aided the energy-efficient museum in achieving LEED Silver status.
Opened in May 2014, the Museum at Prairiefire was created through a collaborative effort with the American Museum of Natural History. The stunning building houses exhibitions on topics of natural science and history in three primary locations — The Great Hall, The Discovery Room and the American Museum of Natural History Exhibition Gallery — in a total area of 41,500 square feet.
The museum design references the prairie landscape and prairie fires through the selection of materials. Five types of locally sourced Kansas limestone were used as cladding to evoke striated rock formations. The cladding was applied to the building wings that were contoured to mimic the shape of rolling hills. To allude to fire, the architects used Light Interference Color (LIC) stainless steel metal panels and insulated dichroic glass developed exclusively for the project to create a striking curtain wall for the museum lobby. At different angles and times of day, the dichroic glass appears to change color from blue to gold, flickering like flames.
“The project’s LEED Silver Certification attests to its environmentally sound design and construction practices, echoing the architectural concept rooted in sustainability — the preservation of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem,” the architects said. “This design does not accept and conform to the shortcomings of suburban sprawl. It defines the environment’s unique identity, forges emotional connections between the people and the place and allows the suburb to become a proud, independent and sustainable community.”
Exterior images via David Arbogast, interior images via Michael Robinson