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Nicodemus National Historic Site
Nicodemus, KS

City College of New York
Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture

Team Leader
Denise Hoffman-Brandt, Director, Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture; Andrew Zientek, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture

Leading Discipline
Landscape Architecture

Other Disciplines
Urban Design, Graphic Design, Exhibition Design, Geography

19, Graduate Level

Studio Research

View studio documentation.

Finding Common Ground

The Challenge

The 4-acre Nicodemus National Historic Site, in Nicodemus, Kansas, is a small park that holds a large place in our nation's history. The only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction Period following the Civil War, Nicodemus represents the important role of African Americans in the western settlement of the Great Plains. With five historic structures set within the larger Nicodemus National Historic Landmark District, the site's significance is embedded less in its physical resource, and more in the perseverance and continuity of the town's descendants. How can this living history be shared with a national audience, while cultivating new opportunities for interpretation and community development?

Studio Approach

The CCNY studio begins by defining the new National Park Service role not as an interpreter of Nicodemus' place and past, but as the designer of a framework for the narratives of the people of Nicodemus — past, present, and future. The studio proposes to strengthen the interpretive scope of Nicodemus NHS in the context of other African-American and westward expanding settlements across the country, but also to connect it with institutions taking part in larger discussions of rights to ethnic identity and the often obscure mechanisms with which minority populations struggle to achieve equity. Nicodemus is only relevant as a historic site as long as it is part of the lives of its descendants, no matter how tenuous the connection. It is very likely, and not undesirable, the studio concludes, that more people will visit Nicodemus, Kansas online than in person.

Key Features

CCNY's proposal sets forth a series of linked planning and design strategies. The Nicodemus Web is a virtual network of institutional and community partnerships to tap into the geographically dispersed group of Nicodemus residents and descendants. An Urban Assessment + Strategic Plan offers research-based future tactics, including a strategy for usufruct agreements to stabilize the damaged and declining structures on the site and enliven the domestic landscape to reflect a living community. A sequence of three experiential trails and site plans tailored to the town's different user groups deepen its social, cultural, and environmental contexts. Finally, a set of interpretive features such as plat markers, an archaeological zone, and a present and future memory wall commemorate Nicodemus as a continuum of still-living history.

Jury Comments

This studio offers a deeply engaged and sophisticated analysis, revealing Nicodemus and its park experience as a multi-scalar phenomenon. This expanded vision of the twenty-first century park is grounded in the idea that American cities were built upon mobility networks — dense patterns of connections that allow diverse communities to thrive. The proposal shows that Nicodemus was not an isolated experience, but a hub in a network tied to people seeking social and economic freedom. The proposal renews this ongoing story by foregrounding its past through digital media for an audience confronting many of the same issues today. This was a thoughtful, sensitive, broad-based, and inclusive vision whose research was masterfully distilled into the final plan.