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Stone and fire: The Museum at Prairiefire blends natural stone and man-made masonry to create an architectural icon

The museum tells a story of geology, culture, and the practice of prairie landscape management through intentional burns.

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September 16, 2016 |

The Museum at Prairiefire had the challenge of bringing a 41,000 sq. ft. massive stone structure in on time and on a budget of $17.1 million, while achieving the structural and aesthetic goals of representing the region’s prairie fires. Located in Overland Park, Kansas, tells a story of geology, culture, and the practice of prairie landscape management through intentional burns. The architectural marvel, with a stone-clad backdrop that represents the undulating hillside, is alive with fiery sparks of color. The fire element is represented by a unique dichroic glass film and the stones are in a vast range of colors. The museum features a rotation of exhibits from New York City’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

The vision of Jonathan Kharfen, AIA, LEED senior associate, Verner Johnson Inc. of Boston, MA, the stonework is a mix of regionally-source natural limestone and manufactured stone veneer from Oldcastle’s Echelon line, set by the masterful hands of D&D Masonry. The Museum at Prairiefire has won several awards and recently achieved a LEED Silver rating

Because Mother Nature doesn’t always have the colors you want in stock and at the right price, Kharfen went with manufactured stone veneer for the darker spectrum to achieve the desired “charred” gradient effect. “We incorporated four standard Echelon Cordova veneer colors and then worked closely with Oldcastle to create two custom colors,” said Kharfen. 

For a second-floor cantilevered stone balcony, a specialized wall system was required.  “The design intent was for this promontory to be completely wrapped in stone, even its sloping soffits,” said Kharfen. He was introduced to the IBP Fast Track Stone System, which allows kerfed stone to sit in a lipped track system, which mechanically holds the stone in place, despite the gravity load of the sloping soffit. The two long sides of each stone are secured in the track top and bottom.

Kharfen sloped the headers (and sometime sills) of all windows and doors located in the stone walls. Concerned about the stone cracking at these unique and sometimes extreme header geometries, Kharfen found a clever way to support the stone to minimize any potential cracking over time. Whereas a typical window lintel spans horizontally to the window jambs, Kharfen designed a double lintel with a horizontal leg as well as a sloped leg. The sloped leg only supports the minimal triangular area of stone directly above the window, with the horizontal leg supporting the rest of the stone above, thereby minimizing the potential for cracking. “You can’t tell when you see it, that there are two lintels above each window and door,” he said.

Like a proud parent, Kharfen beams with pride when he talks about the Museum at Prairiefire, with its seamless blend of natural and man-made materials and incredible colored film that creates a kaleidoscope of colors against the exquisitely crafted stone backdrop. Like a splendid Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Museum at Prairiefire will dazzle visitors for generations to come.


The Museum at Prairiefire used a combination of natural and manufactured stone to achieve design goals and come alive with fiery beauty.


Stonework and masonry is at the heart of the Museum at Prairiefire, with unique structural, color and design elements.


Oldcastle Architectural’s Echelon Masonry




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