Browse all

Sunday Escape - Prairiefire Museum

A building in the fields that seems to be engulfed in flames

Sunday Escape - Prairiefire Museum A building in the fields that seems to be engulfed in flames

A contradiction?

Perhaps, but it is what evokes the appearance of the Prairiefire Museum, in Overland Park, 20 miles south of Kansas City, Missouri.

But beneath this regional civic center containing exhibitions about educational travel from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it hides the tradition of controlled burning. This technique, dating back to the Native Americans, serves to suppress invasive plants helping to rejuvenate native grasses and promoting the diversity of plants and animals.

"It’s not traditionally a building’s job to conjure up images of fire" - underlined Verner Johnson and Jonathan Kharfen, the architects who lead the project - "in fact, it’s quite the opposite. [But] If you have a strong concept, then all of your decision-making must support that concept: details, massing, materials, everything."

Thus, in an attempt to recreate that effect and to obtain an envelope that changes according to the conditions of ambient light, the design team chose to use a combination of multi-chromatic tiles in iridescent stainless steel, mixed with an innovative use of dichroic glass.


It is a particular transparent material formed through the lamination of the polymer film of superior quality 3M between two or more sheets of glass, which seems to change color when viewed from various angles. In order to definitively capture the element of fire to complete the glass, the Light Interference Color stainless steel panels by Millennium Tiles were used.

The chromatic effects of the panels (four different colors with various finishes) are produced by an electrochemical reaction between stainless steel and chromium oxide. The properties of light and color change of these two materials emulate the unique characteristics of the fire.

The wings of the building on both sides of the lobby are clad in limestone stratified by the darkest, "charred" at the base, to the white stone near the shaped parapets that evoke the carved hills of the prairie. The interior walls of the Prairiefire Museum are also designed to amplify the illusion of flames.

Don't you feel hot?


Images by Sam Fentress