University of Washington landscape architecture students take on public works

By Dianna Dilworth

The University of Washington’s landscape architecture students are putting their studies into practice with a number of nonprofit projects as a part of its design-build program. The program, which was born as a summer class in 1995 by Professor Daniel Winterbottom, is now a requirement for third-year students. During the 10-week class, 12 to 14 landscape architecture students work together to design, plan, and construct a project within an underserved community. The idea of the program is to combine theory with practice.

Fircrest School
Photo courtesy University of Washington
Fircrest School

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“The intention was to bring together design and construction,” says Winterbottom. “We are constantly evaluating design and how it comes to function in the built world.”

One ongoing project the students are working on is a play garden with some built spaces in Guatemala City. The goal of this effort, a collaboration with social services nonprofit Safe Passage, is to transform part of a garbage dump into a garden and park for children in Zone 3 of the city — a neighborhood without access to public services. Many of the residents are displaced civil war refugees from other parts of the country, who now live on what they can scavenge and sell from the dump.

“These kids have almost no access to nature or education,” said Winterbottom. “We want to create a safe environment where these kids can be kids and also learn. The goal was to turn garbage to garden.”

The master plan for this effort has four phases that support two existing K-12 and administrative buildings by Safe Passage. Three of the phases have been completed. Phase one, which included an entry courtyard, won an ASLA Student Award in 2006. Since the garden was first planted, it has bloomed into a jungle, returning in some ways to its native state. Phase two, completed in December 2007, involves a play garden and structure, which students spent three weeks designing and six weeks building. The third phase, an outdoor classroom, was designed and built by students in the winter 2009 session. “The outdoor classroom at the main building will be a space used by three of Safe Passage’s programs. It will also be a retreat and a place the children can socialize and study in a quiet green space,” says Winterbottom.Finally, phase four will be a community garden with outdoor lockers.

Other design-build projects on the boards include work in Mexico, Bosnia, and Japan. But not all are so far from home. Many of the projects are right in the university’s backyard. Students in the landscape-architecture program recently completed a garden at Fircrest School just north of Seattle, a school for developmentally disabled children. The program has also worked on various parks projects in Kings County in Seattle, in partnership with Starbucks.

“We partner with the community as we work on the design to create a therapeutic environment for the people that live there,” says Winterbottom. 


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