The great American road trip is a long-held tradition, captivating a new generation through Instagram feeds and Tumblr blogs. While images of National Parks and wide open highways remain largely the same, there’s one feature that’s becoming increasingly rare.
Safety Rest Areas (SRA), developed nationally in the late 1950’s, are slowly fading away in favor of businesses that can turn a profit from travelers. Yet these buildings and picnic areas were created not only for the comfort and convenience of travelers, they were also designed to architecturally reflect their cultural landscape in an effort to help travelers retain a sense of place, even as highways removed them from small towns and local people.
In his book, Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck described the highway experience, without SRAs:
“I sought out U.S.90, a wide gash of super-highway, multiple-lane carrier of the nation’s goods…Instructions screamed at me from the road once: Do not stop! No stopping. Maintain speed… These great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of the countryside… No roadside stands selling squash juice, no antique stores, no farm products or factory outlets. When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”
“When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”
It’s kind of ironic to think of highways, the great connectors of the nation, causing a cultural disconnect, isn’t it? Or that there was a national effort to avoid this disconnect by developing Safety Rest Areas for the public good?
Today, as most American communities better reflect franchise brands than they do their location or history, it’s refreshing to pause to consider the award-winning design of Goose Creek Safety Rest Area in Harris, MN.
Goose Creek SRA's Award-winning Design
The Goose Creek SRA, designed by architects at VJAA Inc, is poised at the threshold of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region and Lake Superior’s North Shore. It’s location and design highlights its natural surroundings, weaving expansive views of wetlands, meadow, and farms along curving, elevated paths.
“The building’s micro-perforated wood ceilings visually warm the interior spaces and acoustically quiet them, inviting travelers to sit on one of the interior wood benches and be still.”
Thomas Fisher Assoc. AIA
VJAA’s Jennifer Yoos, FAIA explains that the design’s intent was to “meet MnDOT’s highway-safety goal of having people slow down, rest, and rejuvenate.”
It meets this goal with a design that feels natural, as though it sprang out from the ground around it, beckoning travelers to relax a while. There’s something for everyone along the winding path. For children, a playground rises up in rounded shapes, irresistibly inviting them to explore. Trellis-covered benches present an inviting spot to sit and enjoy the views. Even dogs have a chance to stretch and play in the dog park.
Architecturally, the building is fascinating to look at and explore. Its exterior is reminiscent of the surrounding farmlands, clad with vertical wood slats that echo that of barn siding. Its round structures are a subtle reminder of grain silos. The building’s interior materials were thoughtfully selected to bring to mind the geology and landscape of Minnesota’s North Shore region with walls and doors in tones reminiscent of gray basalt and red rhyolite.
To encourage travelers to rest inside, designers used SoundPly’s Alta Acoustic Ceiling Panels. According to Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA in Architecture MN magazine, “The building’s micro-perforated wood ceilings visually warm the interior spaces and acoustically quiet them, inviting travelers to sit on one of the interior wood benches and be still.”
In a world that’s increasingly fast-paced and revenue-driven, it’s wonderful that there are places that exist simply as a courtesy to allow weary travelers to rest and be refreshed. Here’s hoping that the tradition of Safety Rest Areas continues long into the future.