The non-profit, anti-institutional, Wildwood Hills Ranch put out a call for help. They asked for design help to reinforce their mission to change lives, one summer camp at a time… pro-bono, of course. The program is simple – space to house and feed campers. The challenge is to connect the campers to the beauty of the place, the serenity of the rural landscape and always consider the beneficial connectivity of good social behavior and the potential dangers of poor behavior. In a place where lives are changed, it was understood that a mute building would be a lost opportunity. The gravity seemed so contradictory to the lack of money for labor, materials and design.
Nestled on a hill overlooking a small lake, the camping lodge greets kids with a familiarity that is Iowan: home. Two shed forms come together, reminiscent of a collection of agrarian farm buildings so common to this area of quiet century farms which remain checked by non-tillable interludes. Materiality is kept simple, both in keeping with the existing camp vernacular and to meet the budget needs of a pro-bono project, where donated material and manpower is highly valued and necessary. A limestone base houses the dining hall and establishes this gathering spot as the visual and figurative anchor of the camp. The intersection of red and gray corrugated metal panels on the second floor mark the sleeping space for campers. Inside, the walls are clear sealed plywood panels and painted CMU. The floor is simply polished concrete. Exposed duct work and industrial lighting are carefully aligned in the space for efficiency and uniformity. Acoustical panels in the dining hall address sound attenuation when a gathering of campers fill the space with conversation and commotion.
Of utmost importance was the functionality of the design for camper care. The first floor purposely does not connect with the first floor inside the building in an effort to keep campers together and increase camper visibility. It allows staff to focus more on their raison d’etre: to transform lives and strengthen communities.