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Discovery January/February 1999

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Architecture Students Present Visions
for Pompeys Pillar Visitor Center


by Annette Trinity-Stevens
Visitor Center Model

Architecture student Melani Mangione shows her visitor center model to Dick Kodeski of the Bureau of Land Management.
(MSU photo by Linda Best)

Right now, the visitors center at Pompey's Pillar National Historic Landmark is a single-room log cabin. But architecture students at MSU-Bozeman envision much grander structures for the site east of Billings where William Clark carved his name into the sandstone rock in 1806.

About 45 students presented drawings and models last month for a new interpretive center at the landmark that last year drew a record 57,000 visitors.

The students, from fourth-year design studios taught by Maire ONeill, Bill Massie and John Brittingham, did the designs as a community service project for the Pompeys Pillar Association.

The association must raise $2-million for the center, which is expected to be done in 2003 for a nation wide bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Student Kelley LeBlanc said she spent a lot of time thinking about how to create a building in a landscape without any other built elements.

"I went through tons of changes," she said. "I had a totally different project about half way through. Then I went back and redid it."

Her design features an oblong glass box inside a 6,000-square feet, four story building. The box inside the building is similar to how the pillar is an object in the landscape, she said. Information about the expedition would be etched into the glass.

Mark Hawkes design is an open-air bridge 862 feet long, one foot for each day of the expedition. The ramp starts at ground level and gradually rises to 65 feet, the height of Clarks signature on the sandstone pillar, making the inscription accessible to handicapped visitors.

Brian Caldwell, who estimated that he and the other students each spent about 400 hours on the designs, said Lewis and Clark are just one part of the monuments history. The site was also sacred to Native Americans and has a long history as a crossroad for foot and river traffic, the military, the railroad and now the interstate.

"By only commenting on the Lewis and Clark part...I think its overlooking some other issues," he said.

His design would sit like a wedge within the median, emphasizing travel and the way people move across a landscape, he said.

"This is going to be useful and not just an abstract project," said Dick Kodeski, who manages Pompey's Pillar for the Bureau of Land Management.

The agency probably won't select a single design to use but rather incorporate ideas from several of them. He'll soon distribute booklets with photographs of the models to a BLM architectand engineering staff.

"That's going to stimulate a lot of ideas on their part and cut their start-up time considerably," he said.

He said three factors have fueled the growth in visitation at the site: the opening last summer of a Lewis and Clark interpretive center in Great Falls; the popularity of Stephen Ambroses book "Undaunted Courage" and the Ken Burns documentary on the Corps of Discovery.

Kodeski said he's not worried about a New York woman's interest in changing the monuments name to Pompey's Tower to conform to Clarks original journal.

"I think the most important thing is that Lewis and Clark generate so much interest on a national scale," he said."Having someone from New York who knows about Pompey's Pillar is pretty neat."

Annette Trinity-Stevens is the MSU Research Editor.

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