First Advisor

Jeff Schnabel

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Architecture and University Honors






Visitors' centers -- Colorado -- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve -- Design, Architecture and society, Architectural design, National parks and reserves -- Public use




This undergraduate thesis investigates the experiential impact of interpretation architecture in the natural setting, specifically through the lens of its users. The need for this study arose when visitors were not approached or included to be part of the design process or studies in the renovation of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve's Visitor Center. The only visitor related information used by the contracted firm was ten year old demographic and quantitative studies provided by the NPS. This gap of knowledge was then addressed by the proactive engagement of visitors in a design workshop ranger program at the park. Results from the documentation of the workshop are regionally specific and prompted a wider range of study to identify consistent interests and experiences visitors seek. Eight centers nationwide, including GRSA, were explored via TripAdvisor reviews for common elements that compose the visitor experience in regards to the architecture; reviews were filtered for the term "visitor center." This thesis then, is a qualitative exploration of visitor input both proactive (input gathered for the upcoming GRSA renovation) and retrospective (input in the form of trip advisor reviews). From this, five categories of visitor experience emerged: Education, Orientation, Recreation, Connection, and Recuperation. Furthermore, preconceived notions of this architectural typology, based on professional experience and education, were evaluated with respect to the identified elements of experience visitors expressed. This evaluation brings up questions for further study and challenges for consideration in interpretation architecture design.


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