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Roaring Desolation: a Sand Palace for the Badlands

Spring 2015 M.Arch Thesis Project

Cardboard Model

South Dakota

Site watercolor



Study Models

Site Model

“Color is a power which directly influences the soul.’” -Wassily Kandinsky

“For those who, like ourselves, are convinced that architecture is one of the few ways to realize cosmic order on earth, to put things according to reason, it is a “moderate utopia” to imagine a near future in which all architecture will be created with a single act, from a single design capable of clarifying once and for all the motives which have induced man to build dolmens, menhirs, pyramids, and lastly to trace (ultimate ration) a white line in the desert.” -Superstudio

The Badlands

In the Western half of South Dakota, the Great Plains intercepts incredible geological landscapes including the Badlands, the Black Hills and rock formations such as Devil’s Tower. For centuries, humans have viewed the Badlands with a mix of dread and fascination. The landscape consists of remaining sedimentary rock deposited during the late Cretaceous Period, 67 to 75 million years ago. Today, delicately banded colors the peaks and valleys shift in the sunshine with thousands of tints. The Badlands are quiet and described as utter loneliness.

South Dakota is a low tax state, and the economy of the western half greatly depends on tourism. The site originally opened in 1928. The Cedar Pass Lodge hosted tourists with cabins, a dance hall and dining room. It was a destination for the American Roadside Culture. The existing buildings today cater to one-time users more than local and regional visitors. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center and the Cedar Pass Lodge are owned by the National Park Service, and the lodge is operated by Forever Inn Resorts of Arizona. The landscape is a remote place, yet is at a crossroads of highways. The town of Interior has a population of 67 people and surrounding hotels and campgrounds that can host up to 1000+ people in the summer. The mundane buildings dissipate the mystic qualities of the extreme landscape.

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota is a programmatically successful precedent for this project. Its facade performs as a tourist attraction and internally it operates as multi-use event center for local and regional residents of eastern South Dakota.

Superstudio and Kandinsky

Kandinsky and Superstudio were an inspiration to establish a design strategy. Wassily Kandinsky was influential Russian painter and art theorist during the early twentieth century. He spent 10 years teaching art at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture where his theories opposed the constructivism and suprematism movements. Kandinsky believed “color directly influences the soul,” and the Badlands invigorate people with extraordinary views and colors in the sunshine.

Superstudio was a radical group from Florence in the 1960’s that explored Utopian design and used architecture for political and social protests. They used imagery of landscapes and infinite grids to explore formative approaches to urban design. Superstudio critiqued Modernism and mainstream architecture for exasperating environmental and social problems. Superstudio’s infinite grid across landscapes and city scapes was a compelling resolution for a Tabula Rasa site. The Badlands have a scaleless quality and create a surreal experience for all visitors. Inspired by abstract and highly ordered theories, a design articulation for the vast, scaleless landscape was developed into a Sand Palace.


Deploying across the site, the sculptural forms envelop the building enclosure and residual forms create outdoor architectural experiences within the landscape. The entrance and circulation is a long, narrow procession guided by a metal corridor. When entering the building, the gift shop promotes knowledge of geology and paleontology. Next, theTyrannosaurus Rex takes the spotlight of fossil exhibitions. The large dinosaur is the token of the time line this site epitomizes. A small, informal stage can be used for musical acts on occasion. A large door opens to the endless picnic space, and adjacent is a private picnic area. At the end of the building is a small auditorium for educational videos and formal performances. Lastly, vistors reenter the landscape through the processional circulation, to view the Millard Range without disruption of vehicles or scaled objects. Exploring the building and climbing on the sculptural forms allows for a scaleless photo opportunity next to the Millard Range.

The materials of the building are primarily concrete and treated metal. The materials can mature as ruins with the eroding landscape.

The culture of the west is a place of few rules so the program space is flexible and open. The architecture complements the vast landscape. This Sand Palace will resurrect the site and invite people to learn and celebrate the unique history of the Badlands.





Entry Detail









Cedar Pass Postcard


Rushmore Postcard