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Out-of-the-Box Masonry Solutions Bring Fire and Stone Together

Part of a 60-acre mixed use development outside of Kansas City, the Museum at Prairiefire tells a story of geology, culture and the practice of prairie landscape management through controlled burns. Located in Overland Park, KS, the 41,000-square-foot museum is clad in stone that represents the rolling hillside of the region alongside fiery sparks of color.

The museum was developed by Fred Merrill, Founder and President of Merrill Companies, and features a rotation of exhibits from New York City’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), a Children’s Discovery Room, and expansive archaeological specimens.

Problems and Challenges

The vision of Jonathan Kharfen, AIA, LEED senior associate with Verner Johnson Inc. of Boston, MA, the museum was to reflect the story and uniqueness of controlled burns in the local Flint Hills of eastern Kansas. Having experienced the burns himself, he wanted the building envelope to showcase the charring of the hillsides with a gradient of colored stones, along with the colored insulated dichroic glass representing the flames. Kharfen wanted to work with a stone manufacturer that could create the colors that would achieve the desired “charred” gradient effect.

Additionally, for the second-floor Discovery Room, Kharfen wanted the balcony “completely wrapped in stone, even its sloping soffits.” With a requirement for such a unique geometric shape, matching the rest of the building’s stone façade within code tolerance posed the project’s greatest obstacle.

“It’s a large balcony that was a key feature of the museum concept,” said Michael Reardon, McCownGordon Construction, Senior Project Manager. “While we’ve used stone in the past on arches, to the magnitude it was required for this project, we needed to figure out a system to support it.”



The stonework of the museum is a mix of regionally-sourced natural limestone and manufactured stone veneer from Echelon, which is a product line from Oldcastle APG, A CRH Company. The stone was set by D&D Masonry of Kansas City, MO.

“We incorporated four standard Echelon Cordova veneer colors and then worked closely with [CRH] to create two custom colors,” said Kharfen.

The challenge of stone on the balcony was solved with additional help from Echelon. Representatives at Echelon introduced Kharfen and Reardon to the Fast Track Stone System by Innovative Building Products, which allowed kerfed stone to sit in a lipped track. This mechanically holds the stone in place, despite the gravity load of the sloping soffit. The two long sides of each stone are secured in the track top and bottom.

To make sure the sloped soffit system was safe, D&D Masonry created a mock-up in a Kansas City vocational facility. They were able to simulate how the soffit system would be installed and how the stone would sit securely in the track system.

“There were no issues at all; it turned out great,” said Kharfen. “It looks like a monumental stone emerging off the face of the building.”

Click here to read more about the Prairiefire project on the Echelon website.


The vision of the architect was successfully realized with the help of representatives at CRH and Echelon who helped create the custom colors to match the charred hillsides and who worked with the project team to find a solution for the stone on the sloped balcony. The museum will continue to impress and dazzle visitors for generations to come. Recent awards include:

  • LEED Silver rating
  • Architectural Products Magazine Product Innovation Award Best Project
  • Architecture Podium’s International Architecture Award – Cultural Building Built
  • Rethinking the Future Sustainability Honorable Mention – Public Building Built
  • Associated General Contractors of Kansas Award of Excellence – Judge’s Choice
  • Kansas City Business Journal Capstone Award for Architectural Design

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