BNIM’s Ozarks Education Center gives new meaning to bringing the outdoors in

Mountain Living

Nestled among trees in rural Cedarcreek, Missouri, the Ozarks Education Center was designed by Kansas City–based firm BNIM to embed Missouri State University student researchers within the forested upland.

“[The center] serves as a threshold to the outdoors,” said BNIM project manager Josh Harrold.

The 4,310-square-foot education center, which was completed in March, opens its interior spaces to their surroundings by making a contemporary twist on a vernacular form: the dogtrot porch. The center’s porch divides educational common areas on one side of the rectangular gabled building from residential spaces on the other, and operable barn doors protect the porch from inclement weather. Separate sleeping cabins to the side of the main building are tucked into the site’s slope.

Western red cedar clads the exterior of the facility and adjacent sleeping cabins. (Kelly Callewaert)

A James Turrell–inspired oculus punctuates the central courtyard. (Kelly Callewaert)

“Historically, dogtrots were used to help provide a different microclimate,” said project architect April Trotter. “The geometry of the building speeds up the wind that goes through the dogtrot, easily making that space about 15 degrees cooler than outside in the summer.”

But the porch is more than just practical—it’s the heart of the building. The BNIM team transplanted the idea of seven cardinal directions from other projects with the Lower Sioux and Oglala Lakota nations to the Ozarks, and they wanted the dogtrot to connect to all seven directions. It links the main building’s northern and southern halves, looks to the eastern sunrise and western sunset, and opens upward through a James Turrell–inspired oculus. Large stones ground the occupants toward the earth while centering attention to the seventh direction: inward. The dogtrot serves as an exterior living room, a hub where students can mix and gather as they come and go.

Operable walls connect interiors to the outdoors. (Kelly Callewaert)

The center uses a neutral palette. Its exterior is wrapped in western red cedar that will turn silver as it ages, and the interior features gray eco-linoleum flooring and white walls. The color and texture of the forest surroundings, visible through expansive glazing, enliven the indoors. Exposed black trusses and columns hidden in the operable Kawneer Tri-fab 451T storefront system open common areas to mountain breezes, passively cooling the space. The three cabins function similarly, drawing cool air from a nearby creek. With traditional place making and sustainable strategies, the Ozarks Education Center teaches students to center themselves in the landscape.

Header image: The education center’s form is an interpretation of the traditional dogtrot parti. (Kelly Callewaert)