The open road can offer some eye-pleasing vistas but rarely any satisfying moments of respite. Situated seven miles south of the town of Owatonna, about an hour’s drive south of the Twin Cities, stands a facility the likes of which are not typically known for their design vision. The Straight River Rest Area plays with the duality and contrast of large commercial and POV (privately owned vehicle) parking areas against the serene, wooded setting of southeastern Minnesota’s Straight River Valley. In addition to its basic functions including restrooms and information displays, the rest area includes two free-standing pavilions for picnic areas, a playground, and meandering paths. The facility was designed for durability, low maintenance, and above all as a quiet and pleasing experience for motorists traveling on Northbound I-35.
The site offers unusually optimal conditions for a rest area, with its panoramas of agricultural fields and sloping hillsides looking onto a heavily wooded ravine. The project quietly embraces the site, inviting visitors to immerse themselves and experience a genuine sense of place. Hugging the existing wooded edge, the rest area’s new landscaping comprises native meadow plantings, short- and tall-grass prairies, and low-maintenance recreational areas of fescue grass. New walking paths connect from the parking lot to existing trails, which wind their way deeper into the woods.
As one approaches the facility’s main entrance, visitors are greeted by a striking façade of canted stainless-steel panels and darkened masonry. Once inside, visitors are immediately drawn towards the expansive back terrace, which looks down onto a walking trail and the wooded ravine just beyond it.