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What it was really like: Architects recreate a World War II internment camp with the help of software

The internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals

in "War Relocation Camps" across the country after Japan's attack on Pearl

Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and during much of World War II is a sordid piece of

U.S. history. Most people know about or have heard of the internment, but it's

not talked about much. The thought of U.S. citizens summarily locked up and

relocated into camps on American soil is an unsettling one.

Several of the camps were in the western United States, and one such location was Heart Mountain in Powell, Wyo. The Heart Mountain camp once confined 11,000 Japanese Americans. In order to tell the story of this camp and educate visitors, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, Powell, has embarked on a $5.5 million project to create an 11,000-square-foot (1,022-m2) Interpretive Learning Center on the site, which will include an interior replica and updated exterior design of the original internment camp barracks. The project is currently under construction and the design took into account input from internees, historians, scholars and Wyoming citizens.

Early on in the process, the HMWF was having trouble finding an architect who shared its vision of the project. So when Schutz Foss Architects, Billings, Mont., was hired, the firm knew it had to make an impression. In order to make the plans come to life, Schutz Foss CAD technicians used a software program called Autodesk Revit Architecture from Autodesk Inc., San Rafael,Calif., to create renderings of the project. Autocad Architecture from Autodesk was used for the architectural drawings.

According to Allen Rapacz, president of Schutz Foss and the architect on the project, the renderings for Heart Mountain were based on an original camp barrack in Cody, Wyo.

"The owner let us into that original building and that's where we got all our detailed drawings. We got an actual sample of the red brick for the chimneys. We photographed and measured it, trying to make it more accurate,"

Rapacz said. Rapacz said the computer renderings made for a dramatic presentation that not only showed exactly what the structure would look like but details, such as how the light at dawn influenced the character of the camp.

"The renderings [allow people] to look at all the buildings with all the colors and all the plantings," said Tyler Martin, CAD technician with Schutz Foss.

Senior CAD Technician Thor Sand added that the Autodesk software allowed them to quickly change materials without having to redo the entire project.


"It's just real quick," Martin said. "If I do a rendering for a building and someone wants to see the siding of the building in a different color, I can re-render it really quick. It makes it a lot easier for owners to understand what their building is going to look like."

From Tar Paper to Metal Walls

The walls of the original barracks at Heart Mountain consisted of black tar paper and wood lath. To achieve the original look and atmosphere but still update the structure so that it holds up over time, Rapacz chose 5,090 square feet (473 m2) of Citadel Panel 20 metal panels in Ebony with a prefinished Silver trim from Citadel Architectural Products Inc., Indianapolis.

"Part of the concept the owner had was to go ahead and not copy the existing barrack design but mimic it in concept, and that's where we came up with this Citadel panel," Rapacz said. "It's the perfect product for that. It's a great product because it mimics what was there. When you look at this project from the highway it's amazing; it looks like a real [barrack] out there. Another architect tried concrete, but you couldn't put the vertical ribs on."

The color match was a key factor in selecting the Citadel panel, and Rapacz said some people, seeing the camp being constructed from afar, have even mistaken it for tar paper. It's exactly the kind of realistic replication the designers were hoping to achieve. The metal panel also had to withstand the area's weather, which can be hot, cold, windy and subject to hailstorms.

According to Rapacz, Citadel allowed latitude for the possible expansion of the panels under direct sunlight.

"We used the metal panels for their durability and how well they hold the color without fading," added Sand.

More History

With an expected completion date set for the summer of 2010, the recreation of a part of the Heart Mountain camp is certainly more involved than the original-a single barrack took only 58 minutes to construct-but located on the original camp land purchased by the HMWF and near the original living area, it will try to capture as much of the site's look and feel from the 1940s as possible.

Along with the Learning Center and replica barracks, there will be a reflection garden, a guard tower at its original location on the center's property and a reconstructed sentry station at the center's entrance.

Inside the center, multimedia exhibits will focus on camp life; internee responses to relocation; debates over military service and the draft; the camp's contribution to the agricultural economy; the Heart Mountain newspaper; the sacrifices of those who served in the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service; and the postwar experiences of the internees. Special emphasis will be given to U.S. Constitutional issues, civil liberties and rights, diversity education/training and ethnic awareness.

After visitors go through an initial set of exhibits in the main building, they will have a chance to explore a recreation of the interior of the camp barracks and experience as realistically as possible what it was really like to be there.


Heart Mountain, Powell, Wyo.

Owner: Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, Powell

Architect: Schutz Foss Architects, Billings, Mont.

General contractor: Filener Construction, Cody, Wyo.

Metal wall panels: Citadel Architectural Products Inc., Indianapolis

Rendering and architectural drawings software: Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif.