The South Dakota Veterans Cemetery is the first federally funded, state-owned and operated, veterans cemetery in South Dakota. This 60-acre property offers a picturesque setting in northereastern Sioux Falls, conveniently located along Interstate 90. The cemetery will serve veterans throughout the state and around the country, as there is no state residency requirement to be interred in the cemetery. Ultimately, it will provide spaces for over 28,000 burials. Phases I-IV were completed in 2021, with phases V-XII to be completed over time.
The stripped-down massing and limited material palette of the combined Administration/Maintenance Building and Committal Service Shelter reflects the vernacular, largely agricultural, architecture of South Dakota. The Administration/Maintenance massing is an L-shaped combination of traditional gable forms, as is the committal shelter/ storage structure. The simplicity of layout and detailing in these structures allows the materiality to become the primary feature of the architecture.
The dominant material as visitors approach is Sioux Quartzite, one of the hardest stones in the world and unique to this region. While expensive to quarry and finish, the stone is impervious to almost any abuse and will last for centuries with only minimal care. The longevity, durability and quality of this rock reflects the noble and enduring purpose of this cemetery. Quartzite use is continued in the cemetery signage, columbaria, and other landscape features to establish a visual consistency across the grounds and reinforce a lasting experience for all visitors.
The Veterans Administration provided a standard program for this medium-sized cemetery, and only allowed a 5% variation in any one space and a 1.18 net-to-gross factor. The functions of the Administration Building, Public Information Center, Public Restrooms and Maintenance Building were combined for maximum efficiency in both building cost and long-term staffing and operations cost. Rooms were arranged thoughtfully to function well, limit dedicated circulation, and support the design intent of very simple massing.
The administration building is located prominently on the entrance road, with enough distance from the main gate to allow for a large cortege to enter the cemetery without backing up onto the highway. Along with the entry signage, the Administration Building introduces the design language for the campus and relates to all other structures at the cemetery with the use of similar details and building materials. In addition to quartzite stone, fiber-cement siding and vertical metal siding are used to recall traditional rural structures while being cost-effective and low-maintenance. The roofs are steeply pitched, standing seam metal systems common in farm buildings throughout the state. Building orientation and limited screening are used to hide the maintenance yard, equipment and utilities from public view.
The facility houses the office, work and support areas for cemetery staff. The staff provides direct and indirect services to veterans, their families, and other cemetery visitors. Services include verification of eligibility, scheduling burial services, ordering headstones and markers, recording burial locations, budgeting, and human resource activities.
The lobby is the public information portal for all cemetery activities, containing a cemetery map showing the burial areas, a kiosk grave locator and other visitor information about the cemetery along with cultural display information. Public restrooms are located off the lobby for use when the rest of the building is closed.
An Honor Guard room for the military honors team is located between the Administration and Maintenance spaces, and doubles as the staff break room when not in use for services.
The Maintenance Area houses all the facilities supporting the interment operations and ground maintenance. In the area, cemetery employees perform workshop repairs, house cemetery equipment, maintain vehicles and equipment and store spare parts and tools. The maintenance area complex also contains a service yard. Additionally, the maintenance building includes shared employee facilities such as lockers, shower room, a break room and a foreman’s office.
The Committal Service Shelter is the most important building structure on the site, providing an intimate semi-enclosed space for funeral services as gravesite ceremonies are rare at veterans’ cemeteries.
The shelter is prominently located, on axis with the assembly area and memorial walk to double as a covered speaker’s dais for large public ceremonies. The axis continues from the assembly area through the shelter to the U.S. flag located at the apex of the site.
The structure provides space for the casket bier, visitor seating, Honor Guard presence, and protected storage. Due to the near-constant wind and inclement weather of South Dakota, the shelter is oriented northwest to use the storage building and surrounding grading as a windscreen. Fixed glass panels surround the storage building and clerestory space of the shelter for additional wind protection, with operable glass panels on either side that can be adjusted to suit daily conditions.
Keith Thompson, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a principal at Koch Hazard Architects in Sioux Falls.