Wild Turkey Bourbon Visitor Center
Roberto de Leon Jr.
Lawrenceburg, IN, USA
Roberto de Leon, Jr. / De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop M. Ross Primmer / De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop
Lindsey Stoughton / De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop (Project Manager) David Mayo (Project Team)
Gruppo Campari (USA - Campari America)
Roberto de Leon, Jr.
In concert with a major re-branding program under new ownership (Gruppo Campari), the project specifically focuses on exploring possibilities for: 1) Reinforcing the new direction in product re-branding & marketing efforts, 2) Providing an immersive, interactive visitor experience that capitalizes on the dramatic landscape and 3) Referencing the specificity of place & context through regional building traditions. A key component of re-envisioning the Wild Turkey brand is the need to appeal to its two primary target demographics – the longtime devoted fan that has had a long history with its core, top-selling products, and the growing legion of new bourbon enthusiasts who are only now beginning to discover its coveted premium range of small batch spirits. Within this context, the design approach draws on the concept of ‘duality’, bridging tradition and innovation through elements that are deliberately both familiar and new. Utilizing a simple barn silhouette (an interpretation of black pitch coated tobacco barns common to the area), the project employs forms, materials and patterns that are common to the region and to the bourbon-making process, but are expressed in unexpected ways. Clad in a custom chevron pattern of stained wood siding, the simplicity of the barn form is contrasted by the intricacy of the building skin at closer range, creating a shifting sense of scale and tactility that is deliberately both simple and complex. Alternating areas of light-filtering lattice blur the boundaries between inside/out and light/dark. Public circulation and movement is deliberately utilized to prolong and amplify the visitor experience.
Located on a bluff overlooking the Kentucky River, the Visitor Center is the newest component of recent additions & expansions to the Wild Turkey Distillery Complex, one of seven original member distilleries of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The 9,140 s.f. facility houses interactive exhibits, a gift shop, event venues, a tasting room and ancillary support spaces. The expansive property is marked by a rolling, grassy terrain that supports a campus of large-scale distillery buildings. Recently under new ownership, the project design supports a major re-branding program that appeals to a broader demographic. Marketing efforts focus on re-inventing the brand’s identity by combining traditional imagery with humor, wit, irreverence, and irony. Alluding to this theme of oppositions, the project deliberately conflates elements that are both familiar & unfamiliar through the re-invention of regionally traditional forms, materials and construction methods. As the public centerpiece of the distillery campus, the new facility functions as a hub through which visitors begin and end their tour experiences. Within an immersive visitor center environment that draws on the handcrafted authenticity and unbridled flavor of the distillery’s range of products, the building is organized and activated by a ramped, split-level public promenade that culminates in an elevated tasting room overlooking the Kentucky River (the bourbon’s base water source). Referencing the nearby bridges spanning the river, a wooden trestle element provides a physical spine from which the various programmatic elements are reached.
The project has more than doubled the amount of visitor attendance since its completion. In association with on-going marketing and press attention, the facility has helped to positively broaden the brand’s exposure – even to non-bourbon enthusiasts. Flexibility in the design of multi-use spaces has provided additional income from other public and private uses (such as conferences and retreats) - offering a long-term fiscal sustainability. Environmentally, the project implements sustainable strategies that focus primarily on economical, passive approaches that draw on regional building traditions and take advantage of natural site characteristics. Aptly named ‘Turkey Hill’ the site design preserves the natural habitat of a wild turkey population that frequently roams the visitor center area. Native ornamental grasses and native meadow grass seed mixtures require zero irrigation and serve as a natural food source for the wild turkey population. Through site orientation, the building manages sunlight and heat gain through a combination of light-filtering lattices and shade canopies, while maximizing views of the surrounding landscape. The building interior provides ample natural light, which is also used to deliberately enhance the visitor experience within the building through orchestrated zones of light & dark passages. Materially, almost all primary components of the new building can be recycled (wood, steel, glass, concrete). Addressing the needs for indoor environmental quality, the primary approach focuses on paints and sealants that minimize indoor air contaminants. To minimize waste and divert materials from the waste stream, the project strategy utilizes as much pre-fabricated and/or shop assembled components as possible.