At Pracht Wetland Park in Wichita, Kansas, water is the driving connection between the site's history, the surrounding residential community and future commercial development.
At Pracht Wetland Park in Wichita, Kansas, water serves as the driving connection between the site's history, the surrounding residential community and future commercial development.
RDG's design for the park draws on the idea that water is not just something to be looked at, but rather something to experience in a sensory and tactile way. Overlook structures feature metal gauze enclosures that are softly lit and glow from within, creating a composition reminiscent of a nest, basket or blind. Informed by the flat characteristics of the playa environment, the design creates a sense of openness and transparency that seeks to get people "out into the water."
Public Art Process
The most productive wildlife spots of the Great Plains have been and remain its shallow wetlands called a playa, or playa lake. The Pracht Wetland is one of those remnants, preserved and uniquely situated in the middle of a sprawling urban landscape.
The park conveys the idea that the wetland is not an object to be looked at, but rather a sensorial and tactile experience. To that end, two wildlife blinds were conceived which hover over the water and represent two distinct moments and visual perspectives to contemplate the wetlands, while teaching us about the wetland’s plants and animals.
Our primary goal was to employ art to bring people into the wetland in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the wetlands and wildlife. We also wanted to educate people about how wetlands benefit us and wildlife and how wetlands reflect how we develop and use the watershed around them.
Two public art installations were envisioned to establish related opportunities for imagery and artwork. Rather than imposed “objects,” our intent was to reinforce the experience of the viewer, the visitor, as they enter and walk through the wetland. The overlooks, or “blinds,” represent the primary opportunity for wetland interpretation.
This wildlife blind is an abstraction of the form of the American Lotus. This native species is found in many wetlands across the United States including the Pracht Wetland. The lotus leaf and flower, interpreted as an undulating leaf form along its edge, culminates with a wall of bowed planks that evoke the lotus flower petals.
Along the linear blind, visitors may stop to explore the wetland through dichroic glass panels that call out distinct wildlife inhabitants and visitors of the wetland, such as the Great Egret, that drop in as they migrate along the North American Central Flyway.
The iterative design process consisted of site visits with our ecologist, client meetings and design charrettes. During the site visits, ecologically sensitive areas were carefully mapped. A vision and goals were created during the many client meeting and through our design charrettes we explored many ways of interpreting the wetland. Our vision and discoveries centered around the idea of getting people “out into the water,” and as close to it as possible.
The resultant objectives included:
Tell the story of the importance of wetlands and their role in human existence while conveying the changing environment of the wetland and how people have used and modified it over time.
Teach about the wetland’s plants and animals.
Teach about the watershed’s influence on the wetland, and ways to hold back and slow down runoff, as well as clean up polluted water.
Seek the involvement of the surrounding neighbors in the protection, management, interpretation, and watershed-wide management of runoff.
The “big move” of the project, a sensitively placed boardwalk becomes a dramatic gesture that reaches out into the wetland – an invitation to enter this environment and see it anew. A sculptural thread that ties the park together and provides a meaningful connection to the blinds.