Designing for the Loons

The loon is Minnesota’s state bird. This aquatic bird is mysterious and intriguing for a number of reasons including its physical stark appearance with its black and white markings and red eyes and one of its sounds, the ‘tremolo’, that resembles maniacal laughter.

I am currently facilitating, with colleagues, a community-engaged project to design a National Loon Center (NLC) in Crosslake Minnesota as part of the Design for Community Resilience Program at the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota. Crosslake is on the beautiful Whitefish Chain of lakes that includes the Upper Whitefish, Lower Whitefish Big Trout, and Rush Lake among others. According to the Nature Conservancy, common loons are considered threatened in many of its natural habitats due to habitat loss and degradation. Pollution, particularly industrial waste, are also factors that have affected the loons. It’s conservation status as a threatened species indicates the following sources of threat: loss and degradation of habitat, pollution; man is their biggest threat. The Nature Conservancy also indicates that “although man is the common loon’s biggest threat, we are also the answer when protecting this species. Keeping habitats safe from land development and other human interferences will keep the loon coming back to its breeding and wintering grounds.”

As our work on the NLC progresses the following design brief is emerging: ‘The National Loon Center (NLC) will provide education, programming, and activities related to loons and their habitat in central Minnesota and serve a local, regional and national audience/stakeholders. Its three areas of focus will be:

  • Loon habitat and shoreline restoration
  • Landscape and architecture as pedagogy/teaching about regenerative design
  • Social/community and economic viability

The NLC will partner with the community stakeholders in Crosslake and surrounding communities, state and federal partners in planning, developing and running of the facility.’

I see the future National Loon Center as a potential beacon, and a vibrant community gathering place set in Crosslake that creates and fosters a community even as it builds a radiating awareness of loons, their habitat and what we must do to preserve them both locally in the Whitefish Chain and beyond. Excited for what emerges as part of this design process!



Garth McElroy/Vireo

Scott Linstead/Vireo




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