Resources 1984 – B. The Rustic Architecture Program of the National Park Service

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

X. Construction of Government Buildings and Landscaping in Crater Lake National Park


B. The Rustic Architecture Program of the National Park Service

The first structures to be built in our earliest national parks and monuments were basic administrative facilities. For the most part, as described in the previous section on Anna Spring Camp, this type of construction was unimaginative and unplanned with no thought given to location and design beyond immediate functional utility. Impacts on the integrity of the natural scene were not even considered and neither was any attempt made to design building styles in a park to fit that particular area s character. This lack of sensitivity to the environment and failure to design buildings to be harmonious with that environment resulted in an unsightly hodgepodge of crude log cabins, tents, and frame shacks in most of our earliest parks, including Crater Lake.

Fortunately by the 1840s landscape architecture began to exert an appreciable influence on architectural design and theory. This new concept espoused a closer relationship between buildings and their natural surroundings, and relied on achieving this by using “natural” building materials, such as native stone and wood. Proponents of this new type of architectural planning found a receptive audience in Stephen T. Mather and Horace M. Albright, the first two directors of the National Park Service. Both men had early desired creation of a bureau to administer the Department of Interior parklands, and both men felt that the principles of landscape architecture, if promoted by that bureau, would ensure that national parks remained as nearly as possible in a pristine condition. Because these new parklands were the last vestige of a more primitive time in American history, Mather and Albright believed that every effort should be made to keep them as free as possible from human interference. Of course they could not be kept entirely untouched by development, but landscape architecture could help protect fragile environments and ensure a minimum of negative impacts during construction of the basic facilities and visitor services essential to running the parks.

A general parks management plan–a way to manage park resources as a whole–was seen as essential in the early NPS days. When Mather became director in 1918, he and Albright help formulate the Service’s policy statement of that year to the effect that all roads, trails, buildings, and other improvements be carried out with their ultimate harmony with the landscape in mind. [13]

Park buildings erected during 1921 conformed to plans developed by the NPS Landscape Engineering Division and were the first good examples of what gradually evolved into the NPS “rustic” architecture style, which blended well with the 1920s emphasis on scenic preservation. Although it was realized that rustic architecture was not appropriate for all park areas, it did harmonize with the landscape of the Pacific Northwest and was widely used in forest and wilderness parks there. Specifically formulated to correspond to the NPS policy statement of 1918, rustic architecture stressed unobtrusiveness on the natural scene–blending visually into the environment by use of local building materials and sometimes even merging culturally by repeating historical patterns of architecture in that particular area or region. Specific aspects of the style in mountainous and forested regions called for use of “native” materials, overscaling of the structure to avoid its dimunition in relation to surrounding large trees and cliffs, simplicity in design, avoidance of overly perfect construction lines, use of exterior colors such as brown and gray to blend with wooded settings, and a general aspect of having been built by pioneer craftsmen. [14]

The blossoming of rustic architecture was encouraged by a thrust toward park development based on long-term planning for the layout and architectural style of park buildings. Park plans were formulated to determine the size, character, location, and use of park structures. They called for an interrelationship between park buildings, with an emphasis on subordinating them to the environment and stressing the appreciation of natural features over manmade ones. Their major objective was a broad harmonious concept in which the, individuality of any one building was seen as less important than the look created by the whole. It was also realized that structures in a park would appear less intrusive if consonance was achieved by the use of one style of architecture, similar construction methods, and fewer types of materials. [15] Park buildings built between 1922 and 1924 showed continual improvement of the rustic design and increased subordination of structures to the environment. This new design concept would soon be used at Crater Lake.


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