The original barracks at Heart Mountain were slapped together with tar paper and wood lath.
For Allen Rapacz, the chief architect of the 11,000-square-foot Interpretive Learning Center, the trick was to allude to that form using long-lasting materials. He used black metal panels, separated by vertical strips of silver trim.
“From a short ways away, the silver trim looks like lath that turns a light gray when it’s weathered,” said Rapacz, the president of Schutz Foss Architects in Billings.
The three barracklike structures jut out, calling attention to themselves while downplaying the lighter-colored connecting structure.
Above the peak of each roof, a goose-neck light fixture is mounted on an old wooden post, a touch that helps capture the feel of the 1940s.
Before doing renderings, the architectural firm measured and photographed one of the original barracks buildings, which had been moved after World War II to a field near Cody. Rapacz also had blueprints of the original camp to help replicate the guard tower at its original site and a sentry post at the center’s entrance.
Every detail was scrutinized by the board of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and the National Park Service.
“It’s our local and regional history and I’m just right smack in the middle of it,” Rapacz said.
“The coolest spaces are the re-created barracks rooms,” Rapacz said. “We’re kind of giving people a taste of what the living spaces were like.”
One exhibit shows how the internees picked up with their lives after the war. At the end, the Reflection Room looks out toward Heart Mountain and to a stark pillar on the isolated landscape, the chimney from the original hospital.