Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center

Wasco, OR


Time Marker

Time is ever present in the landscape of Cottonwood Canyon. Geologic time is marked by the passage of water and wind on the walls of the canyon. Historic barns dot the meadows along the John Day River, serving as historians to the importance of agrarian industry past and present.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park, established in 2013, is Oregon’s second largest state park with over 8,000 acres. Prior to the Park’s founding, the land was privately owned for decades with limited public access. The park was established as a monument to the outdoor experience and as a gateway to the natural habitats and wildlife that can only be found in this unexplored territory of Oregon. Unlike Oregon’s other parks that act as entry points to beaches or public waterways, Cottonwood Canyon State Park is a destination. It’s the only park in Oregon with an unprecedented amount of wildlife and unrestricted access to the John Day River.

Oregon State Parks wanted to create a unique recreation experience that aligns with the scale of the landscape. The parks department brought on Walker Macy to do the master plan, which includes 6 cabins, a shower/bath facility, and a central anchoring element—Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center.

The rugged and fragile landscape, rich in both history and texture, required a structure that complemented its surroundings. Our site-specific approach prioritizes the story of the place and the language of the landscape.

The 1,500-square-foot building references the ranch vernacular of the region with shaded outdoor space, windbreaks, wood stove hearth, and walkways connecting to camping and cabin sites. The durable structure complements the historic barns that dot the meadows along the John Day River and serve as a symbolic reminder of agrarian industry past and present.

The building is placed on the site so outdoor gathering spaces are shielded from heavy winds, afternoon sun, and weather to make the space more conducive to outdoor education. Shaded outdoor area allows the building to double in size, providing outdoor workspace for summer institutes and research programing focused on Cottonwood Canyon and the John Day River.

Interior spaces are configured to allow for maximum adaptability. A ‘heavy wall’ allows for storage of programing carts, exhibits, library media, and environmental education tools while a weather protected, open side of the building lets indoor activities spill out to the meadow and beyond.

Approaching the building at night, visitors will notice a unique ribbon of light emanating from the building. While the form is like barns of the region, with a slight modern twist, the light signals that this place is different, and inspiration is happening there.

Similar to the resourcefulness of historic farm communities and ranches, the building takes its sustainability cues from a blend of site specific, low-tech opportunities and current technology to save energy and stand the test oftime. To shelter from prevailing winds, large doors are concentrated on the leeward side of the structure, with a Juniper shade arbor to protect against direct sun. Juniper is a sustainable forest product that was sourced locally to support regional ecosystems and the economy. Opposing doors allow for cross ventilation and translucent roofing welcomes daylight, reducing daytime lighting demands. Durable exterior materials and a wood interior do not require repainting and age well, looking better with time.

Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center provides an opportunity for outdoor learning, regional activities, environmental education and cultural events that serve the community, the region, and state park visitors from across Oregon and the region. The multi-use facility will contribute to the community experience by providing classroom space, interpretive displays, activity and meeting areas, park-specific library, and gathering space for events. Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center will serve Oregon State Parks as a capstone gathering place amongst the rich scenic landscape of Central Oregon, connecting stories of history with programming and learning experiences for future generations.


Canyon Rim: +1098'

Acres: 8000

River Miles: 1.5

Who wouldn’t want to learn (or teach) there? Beautiful details give power to the overall restraint of the design, a nod to the surrounding landscape.

Oana Stanescu, Juror for Arch Newspaper Best of 2019

2021 Architecture + Finalist, New Materials

AIA Seattle
2020 Washington Architecture Honor Award

Arch Daily
2020 Building of the Year

Architects Newspaper
2019 Building of the Year, Education Category

Parks and Rec Business
March 15, 2021

Outdoors NW
June 29, 2020

ArchDaily Brazil
June 2, 2020

April 20, 2020

Parks & Rec Business
December 13, 2019

Architects Newspaper Best of 2019
December 11, 2019

October 10, 2019

Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce
December 12, 2018