Amphitheater High School’s Outdoor Classroom: a study in the Application of Design

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Amphitheater High School’s Outdoor Classroom: A Study in the Application of Design | Andre Rioux

Andre Rioux


SBE 499

Amphitheater High School’s Outdoor Classroom: A Study in the Application of Design


Table of Figures 5

Introduction 6

Background: 6

Research Methodology 10

Literature Review 11

Making a Case for School Gardens and Outdoor Classrooms 12

Design Theory 14

Design for Educational Spaces 19

Water Harvesting 20

Plant Selection 21

Data Collection 23

Case Studies 23

Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory 23

Mission Garden 24

Russell Elementary School 24

Design 25

Analysis 25

Conceptual Development 29

Design Proposal 32

Implementation 33

Phase I 34

Phase II 36

Phase III 37

Maintenance 38

Discussion 38

Conclusion 40

Appendix I 42

Appendix II 44

Bibliography 49

Table of Figures


There has been a nationwide movement which has promoted urban agriculture. The locale, seasonality, and methods of cultivation, have all entered the spotlight of public consciousness. While farmer’s markets, and co-ops may sometimes have limited accessibility with respect to cost another community gardens are branch of the urban agriculture movement which are highly accessible. The surge in popularity of community gardens came with the 2008 market crash, which created many foreclosures, and accordingly vacant lots. Where vacant lots are reclaimed by citizens, they create a sense of ownership within a community, they become physical manifestations of neighborhood rally cries, elbows rub, and community connections are made. With a relatively small amount of initial input, and continued care, there are tangible outputs, and literal fruits of labor. The popularity of these gardens extends to schools, and a whole branch of pedagogy which emphasizes place based learning. The benefits to these schools is tremendous; students are offered the opportunity to be academically engaged in a space other than the traditional classroom. Community gardens show the potential to create value from little input. With the benefit of a structured design process, there is potential to make school gardens learning space, in addition to growing space. The intent of this study is to explore the value created for these spaces by a formalized design process.


Following are a few examples of landscape architect designed community gardens that have received recognition. One example is, Viet Village Urban Farm was a designed by the firm Mossops + Michaels, and recipient of the 2008 ASLA Professional Design Award of Excellence for Analysis and Planning. The design sought to remediate 30 acres of land which had been devastated by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, in a predominately Vietnamese area of New Orleans. The goal was to create a cooperative farm that would supplement the income of community members affected by the storm. In addition to reclaiming the harshly affected land, the site would process storm water in an ecologically efficient manner. Unfortunately, the community development corporation was not able to proceed because the land plot which they purchased was on historic wetlands, and thus beyond the budget scope. Despite this setback, the community development corporation was able to use the financial aspects of the plan to create a network of gardens called the VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative, which rents space from community member’s backyards. 80 cents of every dollar goes back to community members. This model has proved so successful that some community members who lost work because of the BP Deepwater Horizons Oil Spill of 2010 have been able to completely supplement their income. (Green, 2013) This shows that the value of designed garden spaces not only expands the ecological sustainability of a place, but even potentially the economic viability.

Lafayette Greens, located in Detroit, Michigan, is another notable community garden design. The site was designed by Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture, for Compuware Corporation, and was the recipient of the 2012 ASLA Honor Award for General Design Category. The garden was in part a reflection of the urban gardening trend occuring in Detroit in response to the food deserts of the freshly abandoned neighborhoods of Detroit. Lafayette Greens was also a statement about the commitment of Compuware to the city of Detroit. The garden functions in cooperation with first floor company daycare, where employees of Compuware may take their children. Through the daycare children are brought out to engage with many aspects of the garden, which features fruit trees, a kiwi vine, berry garden, art circle, lawn, and plentiful gardens beds. Community members are welcome to rent out garden bed, engaging multiple demographics. The physical configuration of Lafayette Greens makes a broad range of considerations. The garden beds are spaced in rows and columns aligned so that the tops of beds are level, but grow deeper as they descend along the slope. In conjunction with swales placed between the beds, the garden effectively manages storm water, makes it an asset. Aesthetically the site tells a story about the surrounding area. The material palate of exposed rebar, unstained wood, corrugated metals, and even planters made from oil drums, reflect the industrial nature of Detroit. (Weikal, 2012) It is the interface between engineered aspects, and the interpretative, which make a case for the sustaining value of community gardens designed by landscape architects.

With respect to the three pillars of sustainability community gardens are the product of social sustainability, but design allows for the incorporation of economic and environmental sustainability. Where gardens are not designed there are generally two different places that community gardens appear. There are those which develop in urban neighborhoods, and those which appear in schools. The first type of garden, neighborhood, is the type of space that the Viet Village Farm shows economic sustainability. The second type, the school garden, is reflected in Lafayette Greens, where children are brought into the garden to learn as a part of the daycare program. Even without design both garden types strive to bring people into contact with foods they produce, and to consider the foods which they consume. goals may diverge; in neighborhoods gardens serve as places of community contact, or enrichment of the built environment; in schools they are used as spaces for hands-on learning. The evidence for the benefit of school garden is not based in sentiment; one study from Griffith University, England, shows a study at two middle schools where garden beds and school kitchens were introduced, alongside cross-disciplinary curriculum. The end result at each school was respectively 16% and 9%, for both reading and mathematics according to the National Assessment Program test data. (Manzo Elementary School, 2016)

These examples and results that might inspire teachers, staff, and parents to take interest in gardens at their school. In Tucson, Manzo elementary sets a prime example of how a determined set individual can transform a school. Starting with a student constructed tortoise habitat, the school has grown its infrastructure to include, water harvesting cisterns, Garden beds raised, and sunken, a chicken coop, greenhouse, aquaponics tank, compost bins, and worm bins. The infrastructure has been accompanied by the development of garden and outdoor curriculum which integrates common core education goals, by the University of Arizona Department of Geography. Outcomes so far have resulted in an increase of 22% and 20% of passing scores for the AIMS (Arizona’s instrument to measure standards) for Math and science respectively. () This begs the question of design might have to offer school gardens like this.

Currently there is a gap between community gardens, which are generally grass-roots community oriented projects, and carefully designed landscapes. The question begs as to how they might benefit from these designs, and if they do, how can we ensure there are procedures in place to aid in these designs. With respect to schools there is proven educational value, and accordingly there is strong backing for these sorts of projects by teachers who wish to expand their learning space beyond the chalkboard. An opportunity to expand that learning space has presented itself with the Science department at Amphitheater High School (AHS) has expressed interest in pursuing these goals, and has an open space which they are willing to invest efforts for this experiment. The department has expressed interest in developing the space beyond just a garden space, and would like to include space for class meeting space, recreational space for students, and the incorporation of sustainable practice like water harvesting, and native low-water use plants.

Completion of this project will require careful exploration of structured landscape design processes. A quick overview of this process will require that I perform a site analysis of how the space is currently used, and perform interviews of students, teachers, and the people who provide maintenance of the site. In addition to current use, the interviews should include what the desirable outcomes would include for these users. With case studies of successful outdoor classrooms, interviews of the students and faculty, additional site analysis, then a series of conceptual plans, a recommended preliminary plan, and plan for implementation and maintenance will be produced for the eventual construction of the “Outdoor Learning Classroom” at AHS.

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