Many spaces we interact with outside our homes tend to be designed around a single objective. In restaurants, you could almost pigeonhole the experience into merging meal with eminence—fast-food joint compared to a casual-dining chain compared to fine-dining bistro. In hospitals, the focus is ease in navigating their oftentimes complex layouts. But then there are the spaces that work to accommodate a diverse range of needs because they never quite know who will stop in for what.
The Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, built in 2012, is designed to educate children and adults about the Wisconsin River and nearby state parks, to provide a workplace for visitors and a conference room for chamber members, and to celebrate local businesses and artists whose visions have established and encapsulated the spirit of Sauk Prairie. On top of all of these things, the overarching objective is to then have visitors go out and explore the area.
Of course, there still exists the most pressing challenge inherent to all spaces, though seemingly more so for chambers: getting people through the door. This entails assuming relevance. When Morey Moseman designed the Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, he insisted on a giant clock tower. “When that was put in the paper,” says Tywana German, executive director of the Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, “that was the one design element that garnered a lot of discussion. Some liked it, others were vocal that they didn’t.” But when that clock lights up at night, it’s a beacon. It’s distinct. It makes the building feel like a landmark.
Tywana notes that the walk-in traffic increased a hundred times compared to the old location. Some who enter the space are drawn to a large painting of the Wisconsin River, the background for a giant sculpture of an eagle’s nest six feet in diameter and built stick by stick. Others notice the 1,200-gallon aquarium. Tywana says, “It typically houses bass, perch, walleye, things of that nature.” The aquarium serves as an educational tool for the city’s fourth graders when they come by each year to learn about their community and all of its assets.
Then there’s the touchscreen on top of a tree stump sculpture that provides everything needed for a person to create their own itinerary. Along with area publications on boating, camping, restaurants, and other communities in the area, I’d say this vestibule is more than enough to get people interested in exploring everything and anything the area has to offer. It all comes together to create an inviting informational library.
Through the doorway next to the fish tank is the lobby, filled with natural light from a large windowed wall. The room is designed to be navigated much like a small museum. There are old fishing poles, local wildlife taxidermy, and paintings and photographs of the area by local artists. A few small businesses set out their products and others have displays, like a Wollersheim wine barrel and book on craft beer.
Displays also tell the stories of the five local businesses, ACE Sauk Prairie, Wollersheim Winery, Culver’s, Bank of Prairie du Sac, and Harley Davidson, who donated $125,000 over the course of five years so the chamber could market the space. In the center of the room are small round tables serving as places to work, relax, or just enjoy a cup of coffee. The incentivizing aura to explore Sauk Prairie is carried through with earth-colored tile, prairie-green walls, and broad wooden accents serving as frame and molding.
On the far side of the lobby lies the conference room for chamber members, also filled with natural light from windows taking up half the wall space and used more often than I expected (roughly two or three times a day). A large projector and plentiful seating make the room perfect for company meetings, but people also use it for interviews and other business needs.
Throughout the entire building there’s a hyperawareness to wanting to establish connections. This goes beyond the chamber itself, as they strive to be a hub for nearby business designs going forward, really looking for others to carry the river-stone theme, as can be seen in Vintage Brewing’s brewpub on the river.
It’s not common for every chamber to be utilized as a community space or to garner much foot traffic. Tywana says, “I think overall this building produced way more than I ever thought possible.” To function effectively for its community and visitors, the chamber needs to continuously tap into everyone’s evolving needs. Having a versatile design that’s as inviting as it is practical provides a stage that will keep the space relevant well into the foreseeable future.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Home Elements & Concepts, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce
109 Phillips Boulevard
Sauk City, WI 53583