written by:
photos by:
April 6, 2011
Originally published in The Photo Issue

On May 4, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas, was wiped off the map. An EF5 tornado ravaged the small town of 1,400 residents, destroying or severely damaging 95 percent of the city. Less than a week later, however, the survivors did the incredible: At a meeting under a tent, they rallied to rebuild as a sustainable city.


Some community members at first were skeptical, but they later embraced the idea of following in the footsteps of their ancestors, who had lived off the land. With the backing of the city, state, and federal governments and the nonprofit Greensburg GreenTown, founded by nearby Stafford County residents Daniel Wallach and Catherine Hart, the town has become a sustainable mecca—boasting more than 25 green projects so far and attracting thousands of eco-tourists.

The Big Well in Greensburg, Kansas
We're not in Kansas anymore, except we are—despite what the wind turbines may suggest. After being torn to shreds by a twister, Greensburg has rebuilt itself as a beacon of sustainable design in the middle of the American heartland.
Photo by 
1 / 25
Wind turbines near Greensburg, Kansas
The 1.7-mile-wide tornado hung over Greensburg for eight minutes and destroyed nearly all of the 1.5-square-mile town.
Photo by 
2 / 25
Main Street in Greensburg, Kansas
Main Street, Greensburg, Kansas, nearly four years after the tornado. "The town is a living green science museum," says Greensburg GreenTown cofounder Daniel Wallach. "It's not theoretical; it's something people can tough, feel, and see in action."
Photo by 
3 / 25
Main Street tornado aftermath in Greensburg, Kansas
Remnants of the past provide contrast to the new buildings and LED streetlights that line Main Street. "Everything is new but you have an awareness of the destruction if for no other reason than the trees are so haggard and really stumpy, but in a very violent stumpy kind of way," says photographer Alec Soth, who visited Greensburg for Dwell to shoot these images.
Photo by 
4 / 25
Greensburg, Kansas tornado aftermath
These steps are among the remains left by and reminders of the 2007 tornado.
Photo by 
5 / 25
Greensburg, Kansas road side wind turbines
The tornado that swept through Greensburg wasn't even the largest to touch down in Kansas that evening in May 2007. A three-mile-wide twister hit ground about 30 miles away.
Photo by 
6 / 25
Greensburg GreenTown founders Wallach and Catherine Hart
Greensburg GreenTown founders Wallach and Catherine Hart. Though they live 35 miles from Greensburg, the two became intimately involved in the rebuilding efforts as a friend of the town; both were close with Greensburg residents and had started a natural foods co-op nearby that several Greensburg families were a part of before the tornado.
Photo by 
7 / 25
Greensburg, Kansas city administrator Steve Hewitt
Through early 2011, city administrator Steve Hewitt led the charge for a “stronger, better, greener” Greensburg, working with community members like Greensburg GreenTown founders Wallach and Hart.
Photo by 
8 / 25
Green-roofed City Hall designed by BNIM Architects in Greensburg, Kansas
Completed in 2009, the green-roofed City Hall, designed by BNIM Architects, served as an early symbol of the town’s commitment to sustainability and green building.
Photo by 
9 / 25
Former Greensburg Kansas council president John Janssen
Just weeks after the storm, then–city council president John Janssen assumed the role of mayor.
Photo by 
10 / 25
LEED Platinum standard elementary school
Janssen oversaw the December 2007 passing of a resolution requiring all publicly funded buildings, like the new K–12 school, be built to LEED Platinum standards.
Photo by 
11 / 25
Exterior view of Kiowa County School
The Kiowa County Schools campus opened its doors in August 2010, just in time for the new school year for the 375 K-12 students it can support. A 50-kilowatt, on-site wind generator and ground source heat pump system have made the building 50-percent more energy efficient than similar structures built to standard building code.
Photo by 
12 / 25
Cowboy at community gathering
A close-knit community where everyone knows everyone enabled the rethinking of Greensburg as a sustainable town and provided the joint effort needed to realize the plan. "What happened wasn't due to any one person or organization," Wallach says. "It's an example of what we can do when everyone comes together."
Photo by 
13 / 25
Centera Bank in Greensburg, Kansas
Though individual businesses and residents are not required to built green, many have embraced the town's enthusiasm for sustainable design. The owners of Centera Bank rebuilt the bank where the old structure had stood and incorporated strategies such as passive daylighting, LED lighting systems, low-flow fixtures, rain-water collection, and others to achieve LEED certification.
Photo by 
14 / 25
Modern funeral home with insulated concrete form and Trombe wall
Another businessperson to adopt green-building practices was J. Wynn Fleener, who rebuilt his family’s funeral home with insulated concrete form (ICF) blocks and a Trombe wall.
Photo by 
15 / 25
Modern LEED certified house with side dome
Residents, too, have taken the opportunity of rebuilding to embrace experimentation.
Photo by 
16 / 25
LEED Platinum certified The 16 Prairie Pointe Townhouse
The 16 Prairie Pointe Townhouses (one shown here) include eight of the state’s first LEED Platinum residences.
Photo by 
17 / 25
Resident Kari Kyle on a Greensburg, Kansas road
Resident Kari Kyle moved back to the area after the tornado to fulfill her dream of opening a coffee shop, the Green Bean Coffee Company.
Photo by 
18 / 25
5.4.7 Arts Center in Greensburg, Kansas
The 5.4.7 Arts Center is a green—in color and building strategy—glass rectangle in Greensburg.
Photo by 
19 / 25
Artwork in the 5.4.7 Art Center in Greensburg, Kansas
Artwork hangs in the 5.4.7 Arts Center showing the destruction from the tornado.
Photo by 
20 / 25
Wind- and solar-powered 5.4.7 Arts Center designed by the University of Kansas students
The wind- and solar-powered 5.4.7 Arts Center was designed and built by students from the University of Kansas’s Studio 804. The name reflects the date the tornado touched down.
Photo by 
21 / 25
Motor bikers on a flat dirt road in Greensburg, Kansas
The town, small enough to walk end to end in five minutes, is surrounded by a flat landscape, something that the residents take full advantage of.
Photo by 
22 / 25
Greensburg, Kansas resident portrait
Though residents have finally re-established regular routines, "a lot of people are really tired," Wallach says. "It's four years after the storm and people have been working nonstop to get their lives back to some semblance of order."
Photo by 
23 / 25
Water tower in Greensburg, Kansas
The water tower stands as a beacon in the tiny town. "It's really small," photographer Alec Soth said after traveling to Greensburg for the shoot. "The first day I didn't know anything and was asking for directions. Then I realized, it's all right here. I knew every corner by the end of my short time there."
Photo by 
24 / 25
Wallach and Catherine Hart Silo by the Silo Eco-House in Greensburg, Kansas
Hart and Wallach walk outside the Silo Eco-House, the first of Greensburg GreenTown's series of Eco-Homes. These buildings will be bed and breakfasts where eco-tourists can stay and experience green building. (The homes will be filled with small plaques explaining the different sustainable strategies, products, and fixtures used throughout the residence.) The Silo Eco-Home is the first B&B and also houses the Greensburg GreenTown headquarters.
Photo by 
25 / 25
The Big Well in Greensburg, Kansas
We're not in Kansas anymore, except we are—despite what the wind turbines may suggest. After being torn to shreds by a twister, Greensburg has rebuilt itself as a beacon of sustainable design in the middle of the American heartland.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to interiors , we visited homes from Haiti to italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016
n0a6974 dxo
Architect Diego Revollo refreshes an apartment with a standout kitchen.
April 29, 2016
img 8652 1
The city of San Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the reopening of SFMOMA for years—and as the May 14th opening approaches closer everyday, the anticipation continues to build for art enthusiasts both near and far. This morning, we were given the opportunity to explore the newly expanded space before the crowds roll in. After a series of speeches, remarks, and tours, we left the grounds feeling thoroughly inspired and excited to share what we discovered.
April 28, 2016
gramercy 1 ar53319
A family doesn’t have to travel far for a private oasis away from the busy city.
April 28, 2016
Renovation of 1967 Hamburg apartment with Vipp kitchen.
In our April issue, we showcased an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with a striking, matte-black kitchen from Vipp. The 77-year-old company became famous for its iconic pedal trash can before venturing into kitchens and other tools for the home. This isn't the first time that the Danish company's products have graced our pages, and here we've gathered additional examples from our archive that show how the brand's minimalist black kitchens are always a win in modern interiors.
April 28, 2016
Zafra residence living room.
A man and his wife make an emotional return to an apartment building he loved as a kid.
April 28, 2016
the garden inside concrete dining pavilion indoor outdoor custom cabinets thermador dishwasher refrigerator
A skylit conservatory doubles as a verdant dining parlor in Sonoma County, California.
April 28, 2016
Details of the Calico collection.
Calico Wallpaper founders Nick and Rachel Cope showed us through their home in our March Issue, now step inside their studio.
April 28, 2016
william krisel pow 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
April 27, 2016
Dwell on Design and designjunction at ArtBeam
It's all part of Dwell on Design + designjunction's three-day event, featuring a program of talks chock-full of leading figures in design, architecture, urbanism, and beyond—coming up May 13-15 at ArtBeam in New York.
April 27, 2016
seattles mariners floating house prefab facade exterior fiber cement panels
A prefabricated floating home drops anchor in the Pacific Northwest.
April 27, 2016
royan treatment living room stone fireplace vintage new furnishings
French designer Florence Deau effortlessly mixes the old with the new.
April 27, 2016
modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove
Take a lesson from this school-turned-home.
April 27, 2016
The sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio De Janero, Brazil, designed by Roberto Burle Marx
The Jewish Museum in New York City takes it outside with a celebration of the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
April 26, 2016
Waterfront home in Belvedere, California
A 1960s home infested with powderpost beetles had to be sacrificed before this this Zen-inspired house could happen.
April 26, 2016
dialogue house
At the base of Echo Mountain in Phoenix, a geometric home by Wendell Burnette opens up to the surrounding desert landscape.
April 26, 2016
street smarts kitchen full view
A creative couple transforms an old Toronto storefront in Dundas West into a home and studio.
April 26, 2016
hald strand
This architect thinks of everything for his summer escape, pizza oven included.
April 26, 2016
gans turin residence living room
Thanks to a contemporary interior that she’s been updating for a decade, modern architect Abigail Turin has learned to love her traditional 1925 San Francisco home.
April 25, 2016
Johannesburg-based design studio Counterspace was founded in 2014 by young architecture graduates Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar. Their projects are collaborative, research-led investigations into possible futures and ideas of otherness in Johannesburg.
April 25, 2016
through living room
A second-story addition and a new indoor-outdoor focus revive a nondescript house in L.A.
April 25, 2016
Modern living room with Flexform sofa and Jens Fager candelabra
An Antwerp home blurs the boundaries between art and design.
April 25, 2016
hillside haven  1
This backyard is its own modern retreat in the Berkeley Hills.
April 25, 2016