Architectural Meaning at Arizona Snowbowl – Lesson Plan

Building Natures

Level: Undergraduate (less than 100 students). U.S. History, Environmental U.S. History, Environmental History, Histories of National Lands, History of Architecture.

Necessary Material:  Computer and projector set up with power-point or equivalent and enough printed versions of each image for each group.

Overview: This lesson is about reading through images the different ways in which architecture and landscape design mediate how people engage environments.


Identify: Which parts of buildings and landscape changes may relate to the environment.

Analyze: How these pictures demonstrate change over time.

Understand: That through architecture and landscape design the meaning of people’s relationships with nature change over time, even if the location and purpose of those infrastructures on surface-level seem consistent.

Gain: the ability to critically analyze how material changes affect meaning over time.

Historical Context: Arizona Snowbowl is a small resort built above Flagstaff, Arizona. Despite its small size, it was opened in 1938, making it one of the oldest ski resorts in the country. Alpine skiing can be understood as going through changes. In large part, these were driven by a growing middle class following World War II and by changes in technology, including better equipment, better lift technology, and snowmaking.

Document Analysis:  

1) Split the class into groups of three. Give each group one image and instruct them to analyze what materials and design factors may affect the relationship between the environment and the building/skiing for the skier. (Warning: the trail map will almost definitely prove the most difficult to analyze.) Give the groups roughly five minutes to work through these images. Make sure to offer guidance as to think about the relationship between building, landscape, and architecture. It may be helpful to offer thoughts to begin with, or even to have them read the accompanying article and then expand on it.

2) Break up the existing groups and form new groups so that each group has one person from the previous groups. Ask these new groups to us the discussion from the previous groups to analyze how the images collectively demonstrate change over time. In other words, how did architecture and landscape change peoples relationship to the same place over time? If previous classes have prepared them, they can also be asked as a secondary question how these changes may (may or may not) relate to larger changes in relevant histories.

3) Debrief. Bring the class back together and work through each stage of this together to make sure students understand broadly. Inevitably some groups will be more successful than others in the endeavor.  

Potential Class Discussion Questions:

First Grouping:

What does your image show? What are hints at the time-period of the image?

What in it is built and what is natural? What parts of the structure and/or landscape work with the environment (or remind people of the natural environment) and which work against it? Could it be interpreted either way/

Think about how these landscapes and architecture mediate people’s relationship to the environment. In other words, how do the structures help or make people engage with the environment?

Second Grouping:

What is different in what is built and what is unbuilt in each image? Do the images highlight different parts of the built and unbuilt environments?

How do these changes affect how people likely related to these mixed spaces?

If you were to tell a history of resort architecture based on these pictures, how would you describe the trend from the first image to the last?

Published by Jesse Ritner

I am pursuing my PhD in history at the University of Austin Texas. I specialize in Native American Histories, American Imperialism, environmental history.

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