STUDENT PROJECT | Beyond Remnant: Long-Term Disaster Recovery of Mapleton, Iowa | Adam Mekies, Jihee Chung, Yue Zhao, and Young Jae Ahn


The regenerative potential of a site can often be discovered following a major destructive event. The deliberation and method through which the new landscape vessel takes form can be just as important as the form itself, and may become a “blue print” for future recoveries.



Mapleton, Iowa, was razed by a Tornado in 2011. Commercial, residential, and public, properties were left in various degrees of destruction; many were abandoned all together. The town and its 1,300 residents were left with an opportunity to ponder their future as a community, and re-define their identity.


This project has two major goals:

1. To describe and assist the town of Mapleton in their process of long term recovery. What are now considered remnants and debris of the past evolve into functional, ecological, and esthetic elements of the civic landscape. Moreover, the process of coming together as a community will provide the town with an opportunity to redefine a core identity, heal, and develop.

2. To devise a method through which to address the development of blighted sites, blighted by natural disasters, neglect, or ecological abuse, using the basic elements of landscape architecture.



Our team of landscape architecture students travelled to the town of Mapleton and spent five different days (fall semester, 2012) meeting with the following parties: The Mayor, the City Council, the Rebuild and Recover Mapleton Committee, business owners, churches, schools, and residents. Throughout the process, open community meetings were held and community focus groups were conducted following the models outlined in the Sherry Arnstein’s book, “A Ladder of Citizen Participation.”

Of particular importance was the connection established between the Rebuild Mapleton Committee, our student team, and the Elmquist family’s Mapleton Grain Co. The company, a prominent figure and employer of the local farming community, had been in Mapleton for over 60 years. Mapleton Grain Co. was badly hit in the tornado. The facilities lie abandoned today, strewn with debris and the mangled steel carcasses of the grain bin structures.

With limited insurance funds, and enticed by financial incentives from another community, Mapleton Grain Co. did not rebuild, and moved to Soldier, Iowa. The abandoned site lies directly adjacent to the downtown core of Mapleton, at the head of Main Street. It stands as the largest “eye sore” in town, the most contentious site, and yet the most promising and symbolic location for community renewal. With the town and its citizens wanting the site leveled, and the family business lacking the funds or motivation to comply, the site became the core of our project and the stimulus for our conceptual framework.



Located at the gateway to the Loess Hills Region of western Iowa, Mapleton has uncommon access to diverse open spaces and hidden valleys. With its own infrastructure, Mapleton can manage energy sustainably, and independently make decisions that are best for the community. Access to medical care and recreation amenities are excellent. Both Sioux City, Iowa (pop. 82,000), and Omaha, Nebraska (pop. 415,000) are about one hour away. Mapleton has the potential to attract new residents as a bedroom community, and support local businesses and schools, both vital for long term success.


What Mapleton lacks is a diversity of housing typologies and the density to support its commercial and overall growth. Mapleton also needs parks, open spaces, and playgrounds to support residential interest, and needs to rebuild and expand its infrastructure to support broader economic development. To address these needs, our design team sought to combine the basic programmatic components with didactic and multi-function sustainability elements to develop a master plan for reestablishing a high quality of life.


The Mapleton Grain Co. site is both a prominent symbol of the destruction, and a catalyst for renewal. The site’s management and its surroundings will evolve as a case study and blue print for future development. Our goal is to assist Mapleton and similar communities, by providing a method for unifying the core elements of object, space, and people. This “case study” demonstrates the potential of what landscape architecture can provide for a community, and exemplifies how the profession can inspire a community to empower itself.

Beyond Remnant: Long-Term Disaster Recovery of Mapleton, Iowa
Students: Adam Mekies, Jihee Chung, Yue Zhao, and Young Jae Ahn – Iowa State University BLA
Advising Professors: J. Timothy Keller FASLA, and Julia Badenhope FASLA

IMAGE & TEXT CREDITS Adam Mekies, Jihee Chung, Yue Zhao, and Young Jae Ahn

About Damian Holmes 3147 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at