Competition Winners > City College of New York
Nicodemus National Historic Site
Denise Hoffman-Brandt, Director, Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture; Andrew Zientek, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture
Urban Design, Graphic Design, Exhibition Design, Geography
19, Graduate Level
Finding Common Ground
The ChallengeThe 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 ApproachThe 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 FeaturesCCNY'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.