The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center

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The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center has been on my architecture bucket list for a while. The Pennsylvania based firm Bohlin Cywnski Jackson Architects designed the building. Completed in 2007, it was a 10 plus year process from conception, to fundraising, to design and finally construction. The center is named after the late Wyoming senator, Craig Thomas. It was built to welcome and educate the thousands of tourists who come to Grand Teton National Park every year.

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From the parking lot, you are guided around the building to enter through a courtyard. The jagged roofline mimics the rise and fall of the Tetons behind. It’s hard to find a vantage point where the mountains and the building can fully be seen together, in that way the two never have to compete. Walking though the colonnaded courtyard, you enter through a vestibule that opens into a large vaulted space with spectacular views of the mountains. The architects described the main hall as a forest, with large tree trunk columns irregularly located throughout. These “trees” are holding up the jagged, undulating roof above. At the heart of the hall is an enormous stone fireplace. One wing of the building has a small auditorium and exhibits; the other wing houses a gift shop and information center.

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Initially, I was struck by how much smaller the center was in real life compared to the pictures. BCJ skillfully uses materials, especially wood, to tie the building into the landscape. The wood siding varies in size, creating a subtle beautiful pattern. It’s a masterful building that does not compete or distract from the surround landscape but quietly welcomes visitors to the park. I recently purchased the book Grand Teton, A National Park Building to learn more about the building. The photos in the book are gorgeous, especially with the building blanketed in snow. Perter Bohlin in the book discusses how they aimed to create a contemporary interpretation of the National Park lodge – like the Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite or the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone. The book also includes a handful of sketches and construction details from BCJ’s office. I have two of BCJ’s other books, The Nature of Circumstance and Arcadian Architecture. They’re beautiful coffee table books but they also contain a wealth of drawings that are often lacking in popular architecture books. The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center was the first BCJ project I was able to see in person. While pictures give the center a much grander scale and feel, I enjoyed being in the space in person, where it has a shyer presence that respects the great mountain range it fronts - Rebecca

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If you’re interested in reading more about our time in the Tetons, check out this post!