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Mill Creek MetroParks Ford Nature Center a stone façade mansion nestled in lush, tall trees, greenery, blue skies
Mill Creek MetroParks Ford Nature Center

Fostering Renewed Appreciation of Nature

Project Location

Youngstown, OH


Mill Creek MetroParks


11,500 SF


Architecture, engineering, interiors, planning

Visitors arriving at the redeveloped Ford Nature Center, occupying an historic stone mansion originally designed by Charles F. Owsley for C. S. Robinson in 1913 and nestled in Mill Creek MetroPark, will experience an eye-opening introduction into all that the MetroParks have to offer.

With a complete refresh of all exhibits, including the addition of a new 1,500-SF gallery that overlooks the building’s lush landscape, visitors are oriented to Northeast Ohio’s wildlife and vegetation as well as various hiking and biking excursions for which the Ford Nature Center may serve as a launching pad. The gallery addition, planned at the lower level and set into the site’s topography, expands the building’s size without impacting its historic character.

The planted roof terrace over the new gallery nearly conceals its presence from the exterior. The detached garage structure, formerly utilized for storage, now expands the Ford Nature Center’s programming offerings through its conversion into an Education Building.

Improved amenities such as new public restrooms, gift shop, and planted terrace provide convenience and moments of respite for any adventurer.

Fostering Renewed Appreciation

While preserving the character of the historic architecture, the redeveloped Ford Nature Center provides new experiences for the city of Youngstown that can foster renewed appreciations of our natural environment. What was once a private mansion residence closed off to the community, is now an open public amenity for all to learn about the surrounding ecosystems that sustain us.

Renovation and Addition

Preserving Historic Character

The challenge of the project was to create a new addition that could blend in with both the surrounding natural site and the existing nature center’s historic character. To solve this, the design uses concepts of concealment, sequence, and reveal. The massing of the new addition was tucked underneath the existing structure and shaped to extend out into the sloping landscape behind the historic building.

Nature Education

Immersive Education Experience

In addition to the new gallery’s exhibits, the detached garage structure, originally built as a carriage house, now expands the Ford Nature Center’s programming offerings through its conversion into an Education Building. A new large community multipurpose room and classroom, accessible directly from the site, supports a number of childhood education programs for the community. The design of the landscape is an extension to the surrounding site of nature center’s educational mission. Tiered seating wraps a plaza located adjacent to the educational building’s classroom, providing a more immersive experience for children to learn about the outdoors.


Improved Accessibility for All

Our design organizes the new and renovated public areas around a new elevator and grand staircase, introducing a large opening in the main level floor with visibility into the now accessible lower level.


MetroParks staff likewise will benefit from completely renovated office spaces on the upper story and the introduction of handicapped access.


2023 American Architecture Award: Museums and Cultural Buildings

American Architecture Awards

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