Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Grand Teton National Park
The Visitor Center at Grand Teton National Park provides a gateway and orientation to its natural wonders. With the park attracting four million visitors a year, the risk of its environment degradation is significant; therefore, the overarching educational ethos of the center lies on the urgent need for public participation in land stewardship.
RAA was asked to create an experience that would combine a sense of awe with geological and natural history education. The entry sequence leads visitors through a spacious, meditative courtyard into an expansive view of the vast thrusting mountains. The transition from stillness to action sets up an experience of the depths and drama of the natural world.
Inspired by the geologic processes that formed the Teton range, a landscape of uplifted graphic surfaces, dioramas, and plinths rises out of recessed areas in the floor slab. Seven mountain-peak identifiers radiate out to features in the landscape, and video rivers come alive with slow-moving media.
A laser-based topographic map, an introductory theater, a thirty-foot climbing-wall tribute to Teton mountaineering, and original illustrations and diagrams explain the Park’s natural and cultural history. A daily bulletin incorporating a live digital satellite weather map, daily updatable graphics on wildlife, temperature, and wind speed, and a back-country planning area make the center a model for future National Park Service facilities.
The center “emphasizes the interconnectedness of humans and nature—in our shared past, in our present enjoyment of this natural resource, and in our duty to be responsible stewards of this magnificent ecosystem,” according to the Park Foundation’s website. An exhibit at the close of the experience—the Pledge to Preserve—asks visitors to seal their commitment to preserving the land by signing their name in a book.
Size 20,000 square feet
Architect Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
FabricationDesign Craftsmen (Prime Fabricator); Edwards Technologies (A/V Systems Integration); Gary Brees Studio (Scenic); Poor & Company (Cast Figures); Jim Marsico (Sculpture)
Audio-Visual PresentationsBackcountry Pictures (Films); David Vassar and Sally Kaplan
Audio-Visual SystemsAudio Visual and Controls Inc
Photography ©Peter Mauss/Esto