Park Structures and Facilties
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LAMENTABLE IS THE FACT that during the six days given over to Creation, picnic tables and fireplaces, foot bridges, toilet facilities, and many an other of man's requirements even in natural surroundings, were negligently and entirely overlooked. This grave omission, his persistent efforts have long endeavored to supply, with varying success, or lack of it, as one may choose to view it.

Confronted with this no less than awesome task of assuming to supply these odds and ends undone when the whistle blew on Creation, man may well conclude, pending achievement of greater skill and finesse, that only the most persistent demands for a facility shall trap him into playing the jester in Nature's unspoiled places. He may well realize that structures, however well designed, almost never truly add to the beauty, but only to the use, of a park of true natural distinction. Since the primary purpose of setting aside these areas is to conserve them as nearly as possible in their natural state, every structure, however necessary, can only be regarded as an intruder. Confronted with the so-called development of such areas for his own greater use and enjoyment, he has on occasion recognized these first principles, to the masterly accomplishment of rejecting, sometimes with a semblance of consistence, the temptation to embellish Nature's canvas. He has sometimes even confined himself to building only such structures as long and thoughtful consideration demonstrates he can not do without. The success of his achievement is measurable by the yardstick of his self-restraint.

In frequent cases his artistry has almost matched this developing repression. He has come slowly to sense that, if the trespass is unavoidable, it can be done with a certain grace. The need proved, his undertaking is somehow legitimatized, or not, by harmony or the lack of it. He is learning that harmony is more likely to result from a use of native materials. He shows signs of doubting the propriety of introducing boulders from a distance into a setting where nature failed to provide them, or of incorporating heavy alien timbers into structures in treeless areas. He sometimes even indicates a faltering of faith in the precision materials produced by his machines, and so evidences, along with a creditable humility, his growing understanding of the fitness of things.

As he comes vaguely to sense that he cannot improve on Nature, but rather can only facilitate the way to his understanding and enjoyment of her manifestations, he tends to a kindred humility toward the remote past. He becomes aware of the unvoiced claims of those long gone races and earlier generations that tracked the wilderness, plains or desert before him. In fitting tribute he graces his encroachments by adapting to his structures such of their traditions and practices as come within his understanding. In consequence, the heritage from the early settlers, English and Dutch, still points the way along the Atlantic seaboard; something of the influence of Old France lingers along the trail of Pere Marquette and the fur traders who followed him. Reaching up from the mouth of the Mississippi, from Florida, and Old Mexico, Spanish traditions and customs rightfully flourish. Over the covered wagon routes the ring of the pioneer's axe is echoed in the efforts of today. The habits and primitive ingenuity of the American Indian persist and find varied expression in park construction over wide areas. All these influences contribute to a growing variety in expression promising eventual high attainment.

The style of architecture which has been most widely used in our forested National Parks, and in other wilderness parks, is generally referred to as "rustic." It is, or should be, something more than the worn and misused term implies. It is earnestly hoped that a more apt and expressive designation for the style may evolve, but until it appears, "rustic," in spite of its inaccuracy and inadequacy, must be resorted to in this discussion. Successfully handled, it is a style which, through the use of native materials in proper scale, and through the avoidance of rigid, straight lines, and over-sophistication, gives the feeling of having been executed by pioneer craftsmen with limited hand tools. It thus achieves sympathy with natural surroundings and with the past.

In high, mountainous and forested regions the various structural elements of rustic construction—logs, timbers, rocks—must be reasonably over-scaled to the structure itself to avoid being unreasonably underscaled to surrounding large trees and rough terrain. In less rugged natural areas, the style may be employed with less emphasis on oversizing. For pleasing harmony, the scale of the structural elements must be reduced proportionately as the ruggedness and scale of the surroundings diminish. When this recession in scale reaches a point at which there is any hint of "twig" architecture masquerading under the term "rustic," the understanding designer will sense immediately its limitations and take refuge in some widely different style.

That the so-called "rustic" style offers, if anything, more pitfalls to failure than do the more sophisticated expressions, is not widely enough understood. And while generally speaking it lends itself to many semi-wilderness regions perhaps better than the others, its use is by no means appropriate to all park areas. This is instantly demonstrated by recalling the wide range of dominant characteristics of our parks. Spectacular snow-covered mountain peaks, dramatic primeval forests, open expanses of arid desert or limitless prairie, shifting sand dunes, gently rolling woodland and meadow, semi-tropical hammock, are not to be served appropriately by a single structural expression. A range of architectural styles as varied as these backgrounds must be employed before our park architecture will have come of age.

Nothing is more indicative of lack of a proper sense of values in park technique than the frequently expressed determination to "make a feature" of a shelter or other park structure. The features to be emphasized and stressed for appreciation in parks with which we are here concerned are the natural features, not the man-made. After all, every structural undertaking in a natural park is only a part of a whole. The individual building or facility must bow deferentially before the broad park plan, which is the major objective, never to be lost sight of. The park plan determines the size, character, location and use of each and every structure. Collectively, these should be properly interrelated; at the same time they must be closely and logically related to the park plan to insure its workability and harmony. Otherwise, there will result, as someone has expressed it, a costly but ineffectual collection of "spare parts."

Although a park structure exists solely for the use of the public, it is not required that it be seen from some distance. In its most satisfying expression, the park structure is designed with a view to subordinating it to its environment, and it is located so that it may profit from any natural screening that may exist. Suitable signs marking the way to a particular park building which has been appropriately retired are to be preferred to the shock of finding a building intruding at a focal point or visible for great distance.

The subordination of a structure to environment may be aided in several ways. One of these is to screen the building by locating it behind existing plant material or in some secluded spot in the terrain partly screened by some other natural feature. In the absence of such screening at a site otherwise well suited for the building's function, an adequate screen can be planted, by repeating the same plant material which exists nearby. Preferably, structures will be so located with reference to the natural features of the landscape that it is unnecessary to plant them out.

The color of the exteriors, particularly the wooden portions of park structures, is another most important factor in assimilation. Naturally such colors as occur in, and are commonest to, the immediate surroundings serve best. In general, warm browns will go far toward retiring a wooden building in a wooded or partly wooded setting. A light driftwood gray is another safe color. Where contrast is desired to give architectural accent to minor items, such as window muntins, a light buff or stone color may be sparingly used. Strangely enough, green is perhaps the hardest of all colors to handle, because it is so difficult to get just the correct shade in a given setting and because it almost invariably fades to a strangely different hue. A green roof might be expected to blend with the green of the surrounding trees, yet because a mass of foliage is an uneven surface, intermingling other colors, and broken up by patches of deep shadow and bright openings, and because a roof is a flat plane which reflects a solid continuous color, anything but harmony results. Brown or weathered gray roofs, on the other hand, blend with the colors of earth and tree trunks to much happier results.

While structures should be so designed and so located that it will not be necessary to plant them out, the proper introduction of vegetation along the foundations will gracefully obliterate the otherwise unhappy line of demarcation between building and ground. Rough rock footings artfully contrived to give the impression of natural rock outcroppings, are a means of blending the structure to the site. A batter to a stone wall, with skillful buttressing of the corners, if done with true finesse, will often bring to the building that agreeable look of having sprung from the soil. Park structures giving that impression are of the elect.

Some park structures give hint of their designers' long dalliance in cities, where architectural design has become a matter of one façade. It should be remembered that park buildings will be viewed from all sides, and that design cannot be lavished on one elevation only. All four elevations will be virtually front elevations, and as such merit careful study. Admittedly, one side of major park buildings will always provide for service, and while enclosures on park areas are to be deplored and only installed where necessary, a palisade or some other suitable enclosure on this side of the building should completely screen all service operations.

As a rule, park structures are less conspicuous and more readily subordinated to their settings when horizontal lines predominate and the silhouette is low. Verticality will therefore be avoided wherever possible. This usually calls for a roof low in pitch, perhaps not more than one-third. Too frequently, roofs needlessly dominate both structure and setting.

The degree of that sought-for primitive "character" in park structures that native materials can contribute depends entirely on intelligent use. The quality, not the fact, of "nativeness" of materials is of value. Local stone, worked to the regularity in size and surface of cut stone or concrete block, and native logs fashioned to the rigid counterpart of telephone poles or commercial timber, have sacrificed all the virtue of being native.

Rock work needs first of all to be in proper scale. The average size of the rocks employed must be sufficiently large to justify the use of masonry. Rocks should be placed on their natural beds, the stratification or bedding planes horizontal, never vertical. Variety of size lends interest and results in a pattern far more pleasing than that produced by units of common or nearly common size. Informality vanishes from rock work if the rocks are laid in courses like brick work, or if the horizontal joints are not broken. In walls the larger rocks should be used near the base, but by no means should smaller ones be used exclusively in the upper portions. Rather should a variety of sizes be common to the whole surface, the larger predominating at the base. Rock should be selected for its color and hardness.

Logs should never be selected because they are good poles. There is nothing aesthetically beautiful in a pole. Logs desirable in the park technician's viewpoint are pleasingly knotted. The knots are not completely sawed off. The textural surface of the log after removal of the bark is duly appreciated and preserved. Strong as may be the immediate appeal of structures built of logs on which the bark is left, we do well to renounce at once this transitory charm. If the bark is not intentionally stripped, not only will this process naturally and immediately set in, but the wood is subjected to aggravated deterioration through the ravages of insects and rot. It is in the best interests of the life of park structures, as well as in avoidance of a long period of litter from loosening bark, and of unsightliness during the process, that there has come about general agreement that the bark should be entirely sacrificed at the outset.

This outline of the factors which make for the desirable and appropriately rugged, handcrafted character of park structures would be woefully incomplete if consideration of roof texture were left unconsidered. The heavy walls of rock and timber which are urged as fitting to a natural environment are assuredly created in vain unless crowned with roofs having related character. Surmounted with roofs trivial in aspect and thin in fact, the heavy walls appear robbed of justification. Verge members in gables should tend to be oversized, eave lines to be thick, and the roofing material to appear correspondingly heavy and durable. Where wood shingles or shakes are used on a roof, these should be fully an inch in thickness if possible, and the doubling of every fifth course or so, unless the building is quite small, will bring the roof texture into more appropriate scale with the structure itself and with the other materials that compose it. The primitive character we seek to create is furthered tremendously if we shun straight rigid eave and course lines in favor of properly irregular, wavering, "freehand" lines. The straight edge as a precision tool has little or no place in the park artisan's equipment.

The structures necessary in a park are naturally less obtrusive if they are reasonably unified by a use of one style of architecture, limited construction methods, and not too great variety in materials. When a truly inappropriate style of architecture already exists in a park in which new work is contemplated, it is urged that the new buildings do not stubbornly carry on the old tradition. The best judgment available should be consulted to determine upon the style most appropriate to the area, and this then frankly and courageously launched. If the new style is the more appropriate one, it will prevail. In course of time the earlier, inappropriately styled buildings, will, in the very fitness of things, be eliminated.

Since structures exist in parks through sufferance, it follows that it is highly desirable in every area to keep down the number of them. A small area can be ruined by a clutter of minor buildings which, however necessary their purpose, seem to have been forced into every vista to inflict a consciousness of the hand of man. Two functions, or even more, where closely related at a given location, should be combined under one roof. This is not in defense of excessively large buildings. It is sound practice only within reasonable limits. It is based on a belief that a localizing of infection is preferable to an irritating rash of trivial structures all over an area. The grouping of two or more facilities under one roof tends to bring welcome variety to park structures generally. The limited range of expression of any simple, one-purpose building is vastly widened as other purposes are combined with it.

CONFRONTED WITH THE PRIVILEGE of presenting examples of representative structures and facilities that have found place in our natural park areas, many decisions have been necessary in determination of a proper approach. Should such a compilation assume in the reader no fundamental knowledge of the subject, and become a park primer treating the subject "from the ground up" literally and figuratively? Should it seek to embrace in all detail every subject of possible interest to the park-minded, from the many linked but varied viewpoints of the architectural, landscape and engineering professions, assuming in the reader a consuming appetite for knowledge—in bulk? Need it concern itself with formulae and tables, diagrams and charts, rules of thumb and rules of fact? Should it become a repository of material, both technical and aesthetic, elementary and advanced, and already available, albeit from scattered sources?

The conclusion of the editing committee is that the call is for none of these things. It is firmly of the opinion that the aim should be toward a comprehensive presentation of structures and appurtenances in which principles held in esteem by park planners, landscape designers, engineers, and architects, have been happily combined in adequate provision for man's needs with minimum sacrifice of a natural setting.

By avoiding any tendency to be a primer, an encyclopedia, or a handbook of the subject, it has been hoped to focus more directly on the current trend in park structures and facilities. It is believed that by making the subjects herein widely available for comparative study, the influence engendered by each in itself will be widened to merge into a forceful composite, to the advancement of park technique.

The structures and facilities shown are usually existent in, or suited to, natural parks, as distinguished from naturalistic or formalized city parks. These latter are considered to be a field in themselves, very different in major concept, and better treated independently of the natural park areas as exemplified by our National and many of our State Parks. Examples, however, from Metropolitan and County Parks, which in their expression would be equally at home in a completely natural environment, are in some instances included for the completeness of the collection.

The subject matter has suggested three varieties of presentation. There are minor facilities, developed to a pleasing and thoroughly satisfying expression within certain utilitarian or technical limitations, which might with propriety be duplicated in many localities. In such instances, it has been the endeavor to provide information in such complete detail that close adaptation is made possible. This is by no means so much an invitation to indiscriminate copying, as a suggestion that little objects once well done are often a more satisfactory solution to a recurring problem than a new creation claiming the sole and debatable distinction of originality.

Another group embraces subjects eminently suited to particular locations, but promising little success with outright transplanting into another environment. Detail of such subjects is purposely limited, and they are included simply in the hope that they may exert an influence by conveying the charm and fitness of the subjects in their specific settings and expressions, while flying a warning against too literal translation where some other dialect, or an entirely different language, might better be used. It is intended to offer the spirit but not the letter of such examples. Only reliance on the best professional advice can reasonably insure against structures appropriate in one locality becoming hideous caricatures elsewhere. Only consummate skill and rare good judgment in adaptation can limit the spread of half-caste offspring, the very counterfeit exactness of which is pathetic testimony of the bar sinister relationship.

The third presentation is of successful accomplishments of highly individual problems, the factors fixing which are unlikely ever to be approximated in another problem. These are included in recognition of worthy attainment, to inspire in those to whom the more complex park structures may be entrusted in the future, a high purpose to approach their specific problems with equally refreshing individuality, ingenuity, and forthrightness. Plagiarism, subtle or obvious, in structures within this category would be a crowning stupidity.

It is felt that inclusion of examples of extraordinarily complex structures in parks would bring little to the practical usefulness of this collection. The more involved and extensive the structure, the more evident that it is the result of an altogether unique interplay of needs, topography, traditions, materials and many other factors. Beyond the borders of utter simplicity lie innumerable possible patterns, complex in varying degree. The duplication of any one such pattern is without rime, the approximation of it without reason. Readers will note the absence of many well-known and admired large-scale buildings of incontestable park character. These are held to be sanctified in a sense by their very success. They are omitted to avoid possible inference that they are imitable material.

The placing of some of the combination structures herein presented, within the chapter classifications established, may stand in need of explanation and defense. Such combination buildings are so numerous, that to create a separate classification for them would result in one very bulky and but loosely related group, at the expense of, and out of reasonable balance with, most of the other classifications. For this reason the allocation of a so-called combination structure to that heading which seems best to define the apparently dominant use of the building is the chosen alternative.

On one major point in the selection of material the editing committee failed to agree. The question, long debated, centered around honesty in the use of materials in that wide-ranging style in park structures which we loosely identify, and as loosely term, "rustic" or "pioneer." One opinion insisted that park buildings should not appropriate the semblance of primitive structures without appropriating as well all the primitive elements and methods of the prototypes. It was held that there is no allowable compromise with true log construction; it must be rigidly adhered to in every detail if employed at all. Contrary opinion argued that there are not at hand today the seemingly inexhaustible resources of pioneer days, that to insist on the use of logs in today's park structures in the spendthrift fashion of our forefathers, might be logic in the aesthetic abstract, but in practice wastes those resources the conservation of which is at the very roots of the impetus toward park expansion. A straddling pacifist proposed that only the more important park structures should faithfully reproduce pioneer log construction, with the objective of preserving for observation and study the fast-disappearing frontier construction methods. Minor and oft-repeated units such as cabins, he argued, might well utilize some more economical, even though less picturesque and durable, method.

Here was an age-old controversy in a new setting. Taking into account the demands of present day economy and conservation principles, how far might we properly recommend departure from the forthright but prodigal construction of the pioneers? Dared we urge recourse to substitutes as a recommended or even acceptable wall surface finish for park buildings? Is there justification in the fact that the amount of timber stock required for one true log structure will provide material for three or four more or less adequate and pleasing structures to bloom or blight (the partisan reader may choose his own verb) in its place?

Only threats to turn the key on the jury until a verdict would be reached moved the proponents of the several schools of thought. Beyond all doubt every member of the committee was coerced through sheer horror at the prospect of enduring longer the enforced company of six others of heretical belief. At any rate, the perfect settlement was suavely reached by unanimous agreement to leave the matter unsettled. The committee remains stubbornly off the record on this controversial point. In offering herein examples that provoke argument and supply rebuttal for every viewpoint, it tosses the debate to partisan readers in the remote hope of an eventual conclusive opinion.

The intent in publication of this collection will be misconstrued if it is interpreted as providing source material for park structures, denying need for competent professional assistance in the creation of park buildings that may follow. The intent is the very opposite. The most completely satisfying subjects included herein are so, not as a result of chance, but because training, imagination, — effort and skill are conjoined to create and fashion a pleasing structure or facility appropriate to a particular setting. Who then, but those of professional training and experience are equipped to decide that a perfect structural interpretation for one setting will sanction adaptation for another, and in what detail or degree modification will make the most of the conditions presented by another environment? If an existing structure is so admired that it persuades duplication, careful analysis will inevitably demonstrate that admiration springs from a nice perfection of the subject within one circumstantial pattern. As that pattern changes so must the structure change. To venture in translation without benefit of technical idiom foredooms to mediocrity if not to failure.

In connection with the subjects illustrated will be discovered a varied practice in the matter of credit lines. This proceeds, not from conscious intent to withhold credit where credit is due, but from a lack of enabling information. The editing committee regrets that the names of countless artisans, technicians and agencies whose talents and cooperation have brought distinction to the structures, and to the National Park Service the privilege of compiling this collection, go unrecorded. To all contributors, who with high purpose may have produced an entire park system, a skillful planting, well-fashioned log, a photograph of character, a salute is offered. To those who herein must remain anonymous, an extra salvo!

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Last Updated: 5-Dec-2011