Welcome to the New Wild West

People / Places / July 10, 2012

A startling set of numbers drives this project:

It’s nestled in a small western town with only 9,000 residents who live there year-round.  So why in the world would they need a state-of-the-art welcome center, complete with cerebral, thought-provoking work of public art?

The answer lies in their town’s far-flung reputation as a premier resort, located at the gateway to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park.  About three million visitors come every year to Jackson, Wyo., to ski, fish and luxuriate in what promoters call the ultimate vacation destination.

The new Home Ranch Welcome Center there, designed by Carney Logan Burke Architects, recently opened to greet the tourists who’ve transformed this town, and to serve as community center too.  The 3,000 square-foot structure replaces an existing, well-worn public restroom at the intersection of Cache and Gill Streets on the edge of historic downtown.

“We looked at it for about ten years before the town pushed for federal money through the National Scenic Byways Program,” says Eric Logan, partner in the firm.  A long public hearing process began in 2009, complete with scrutiny from local media.

“The town wanted a progressive building – a complete departure from what had been there,” he says.  “They wanted a new identity for the town’s projects – it was branding the town in a way.”

Indeed.  The welcome center incorporates the town’s first public art installation, by local artist John Frechette.  It’s a series of glass blocks inserted into the structure’s sunscreens, its colors pattered to replicate the DNA of bison and bear.

Other materials include cast-in-place concrete, turned log columns and cedar siding.  At the building’s southern elevation, the architects used a glass volume with a roof element that tilts up to recognize Snow King Mountain, a local landmark.

“We thought of it as a porch – as a welcoming entry and a symbol of shelter,” he says.  “There’s a seven and a half-foot overhang that’s like a big hat.  It’s a place to get out of the rain and snow.”

More than that, it’s a symbol too, for a town that embodies a distinctive dichotomy – between its numbers, and the rustic sophistication that drives them.

For more on the Home Ranch Welcome Center, go to http://www.clbarchitects.com/projects/in-progress/home-ranch-welcome-center-94/

For more on Jackson, Wyo.,go to http://www.jacksonholewy.com/?gclid=CPKuxbOZj7ECFYTd4AodVWBNGA

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Mike Welton

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