Sheridan County Fairgrounds

Beyond Ruralism: a community-centered master plan

  • Type Agricultural / Civic
  • Location Gordon, Nebraska
  • Status In progress
  • Date Schematic Design, December 2019
  • Project Partners

    Sheridan County 4H Foundation

    University of Nebraska Extension
    Melissa Mracek, 4H Educator


The project is an outgrowth of FACT’s spring 2018 project with the Sandhills Institute in nearby Rushville, NE (see The Grocery). The Sheridan County 4H Foundation, our partner, seeks a master plan with new and repurposed buildings to replace disconnected existing structures in disrepair. The goal for phase one, completed in 2020, is to produce a detailed design proposal to assist the 4H Foundation in refining the project scope, forming a clear vision for the fairgrounds, and producing materials to support fundraising and development. FACT is currently working with Actual Architecture Co. to advance the project and assist the 4H Foundation in realizing the project.

Two FACT teams developed alternate schemes, one is presented here.

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South elevation
Infra-ordinary architecture for the Great Plains

Following an analysis of existing buildings, FACT will preserve only three: two older wooden exhibition structures at the west side of the complex and an early metal building at the east. Between these we arrange three new metal buildings, a Show Barn and two livestock sheds. The complex is linked by dedicated paths for livestock, participants, and visitors at the ground level and a catwalk for viewing above. The catwalk allows visitors to pass through all buildings and above the livestock pens, dropping back to the ground at the two historic exhibition buildings. While the livestock sheds and Show Barn are designed for seasonal uses (and community storage in the winter), the repurposed metal building becomes a year-round Community Center. The surrounding landscape accommodates community gardens, grazing, camping, carnivals, and other large events.

The architecture is decidedly understated. The three new structures are identical in proportion and material configuration to the old metal building; however, two of the sheds are skewed with unusual parallelogram plans, providing dedicated outdoor uses facing different sides of the site. The apparently familiar buildings are in fact derived, literally, from the axonometric projection.


Community Center interior

Community Center and catwalk link

At the east end of the complex, the Community Center will be constructed within an existing metal building (with added insulation for year-round use). A solid plinth with tiered seating on one side contains a kitchen, restrooms, storage, and an office with multipurpose space above. Areas can be subdivided with translucent curtains. The catwalk begins here and connects all 4 metal buildings in the complex. The Community Center will host a wide variety of events from lectures, to dinners, weddings, craft sales, and exhibitions. Casual users can work out in an open gym or play on the ball courts.

Model, from the north: Community Center (left) and Show Barn (right)

Catwalk and Show Barn

Towards a Critical Ruralism

The rural environment has largely been ignored by the design professions. As architect Rem Koolhaas points out, “half of mankind lives in the city, but the other half doesn’t”. In a 2020 publication and a major museum exhibition, Koolhaas “presents his manifesto on the countryside, revealing how little attention has been paid to the countryside in the past decades and how this unknown territory is rapidly transforming”.* While Koolhaas’ research focusses on broad social and technological changes of global scale, this project looks at the near environment of specific communities, the people within them, and the unique opportunities for generating contemporary design-research and modern design products in the cultural margins. The project challenges the urban-rural binary to propose a form of “agricultural urbanism” of the everyday that reverses perceived biases towards urban culture as global culture and the rural as a resource primed for extraction, proposing instead a new cultural nexus of commoning for the rural. Thus, the Sheridan County Fairgrounds fits within a legacy of past FACT projects with organizations such as the Art Farm Nebraska, the Salina Art Center, and the Sandhills Institute’s Grocery cultural center, currently under construction.

Elevation oblique view
Design awards jury comments

AIA Central States Merit Award

The modest geometric transformation of simple shed buildings heightens the tension between rural and cultural programs linked together by a simple catwalk.


AIA Nebraska Honor Award

The jury was struck by the directness of the scheme. Replicating the figure of the existing metal shed three times across the site but distorting two of them in their plan geometry charges the spaces caught between and and simultaneously elevates the status of the existing structure. Here is a project where attention to program and context produces unexpected architectural results.



2020 AIA Central States Region Merit Award-Unbuilt
2020 AIA Nebraska Honor Award for Unbuilt Architecture

Project Team

Ashley Glesinger, Paige Haskett, Jerry Philbin, Andres Villegas

interns and phase 2 students:
Ethan Boerner

consultants and subcontractors:
Actual Architecture Co. (Architect of Record)

project advisors:
Sandhills Institute

other students (alternate scheme):
Mikinna McGerr, Alicia Ringer, Noah Schacher, Brendan Schartz

Photography By model photography by Larry Gawel
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