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San Juan Island National Park
Friday Harbor, WA

University of Washington
College of Built Environments

Team Leader
Ken P. Yocom, PhD, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture

Leading Discipline
Landscape Architecture

Other Disciplines
Historic Preservation Planning, Environmental Planning, Conservation Science, Geography, Museology, Architecture

23, Upper-Division Undergraduate and Graduate

Studio Research

View site model.


The Challenge

With an intriguing historical backstory and a stunning natural setting, San Juan Island National Historical Park offers unique interpretive challenges. The park commemorates the so-called "Pig War" Crisis of 1859—when U.S. Army troops and British warships were nose to nose over which nation held rights to the island—a crisis resolved when the parties agreed to a joint military occupation, averting an international armed conflict. The park now celebrates how individuals and nations can resolve disputes without resorting to violence. The major challenge for the studio team was to successfully connect the two American and British camps—set 13 miles apart—while providing better visitor access and interpretive opportunities to tell the park's natural and cultural stories.

Studio Approach

The University of Washington's team of 21 students argues for programming in small national parks to balance the everyday needs of local residents with the needs of destination travelers. Their approach is grounded in three design processes: storytelling across scales, loosened boundaries, and interpretive stewardship. In this vision of the future small park of America, visitors understand their interactions with the park as part of an ongoing story of place that is connected to a larger network of human and non-human narratives.

Key Features

The studio proposes a process of overall re-invigoration of the site, from re-establishing the marsh and rehabilitating the orchard to re-connecting the military road that connects the two principal park camps. Other strategies to boost access and broaden the park’s visitor network include combining the visitor center with a community center and introducing a digital interpretive device that encourages stewardship by bringing the visitor center into the landscape.

Jury Comments

Repositioning the National Park Service "small park" as a key open space component to enhance the vitality of growing metropolitan regions could be embraced system-wide as a very effective strategy to capitalize on these precious regional resources. Too often, we overlook the small national parks in favor of the larger, more prominent sites. But this studio persuasively demonstrates that the small park is big in other ways—and critical to bringing the city dweller in contact with the National Park Service mission in their own backyard.