The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.
W61 N617 Mequon Ave, Cedarburg, WI 53012 | p: 262.377.6039
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May 26, 2011

A Tribute To Nina Leopold Bradley, 1917-2011

Nina Leopold Bradley. Image courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

“The Shack was everything, and it was nothing.”

Nina Leopold Bradley

Today we honor the life and inspiration of Nina Leopold Bradley, a graceful and eloquent voice for scientific environmentalism, and daughter of conservationist Aldo Leopold.

The following is an excerpt from remarks given by TKWA Co-Founder, Allen Washatko, at the dedication ceremony for the new Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, Wisconsin on April 20, 2007. It was our great pleasure to work with Nina on this important project. We will miss her gracious personality, her intelligence, and her humility.

As we dedicate the Leopold Legacy Center and the vision that it represents I would like to bring you back to a moment in time about four years ago. TKWA had just been selected for the task of giving form to an idea. We were gathered in a small group with Buddy Huffaker (Leopold Foundation Director) and Nina Leopold at her house near the historic Leopold Shack. We found ourselves in a simple and unpretentious home, full of daylight and the warmth of natural materials. Birds of all variety were feeding in the trees near an open expanse of living-room windows, and their sounds filled the house. Nina had baked homemade cookies for all to share. As visitors, we could sense something deeper at work here, something unfamiliar in our contemporary world. It was evidence of a life lived deeply connected to the land and its natural rhythms.

The goal for the new Legacy Center, Nina and Buddy shared, was to introduce a particular quality of understanding. To illustrate their meaning, they described the typical tourist center, which is structured to briefly entertain many visitors in a “high-volume, low-intensity” experience. Their vision, Nina and Buddy contrasted, was to reinforce a “low-volume, high-intensity” experience. They wanted a place that would more deeply engage, a place that afforded an individual the means to more fully consider what Aldo Leopold described as a “land ethic”. For Aldo Leopold, this understanding was both personal and universal; in the words of his daughter Nina, it was “a sense of belonging to something greater than himself, a continuity with all life through time.”

As architects we took inspiration from the Shack and all that it implies. But we did not seek to copy it – for the Shack represents everything that is not superficial. Perhaps most influential was Nina’s offhand comment, “The Shack was everything, and it was nothing.” What we understood her to mean was that while this humble building served as a functional outpost for the family’s land restoration activities, the physical nature of the building was less important than the work that took place here, less important than the ideas and understanding gained. At TKWA, we concluded that the end-all of the Leopold Legacy can never be simply a building. A building alone would quietly emphasize a mechanical solution over ecological wisdom. Thus, our design efforts always strove to shift focus from buildings onto spaces and the activities associated with them.

The process of creating the Leopold Legacy Center was, ultimately, about finding real solutions to large scale problems that otherwise may seem insurmountable, about finding hope and a larger sense of community, about understanding what it means to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.

Opening Remarks, Leopold Legacy Center Dedication, April 20, 2007

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