Rural Studio, Auburn University
For our team, I think that challenging the traditional definition of a playground was a really difficult obstacle to overcome. Traditional playgrounds are incredibly compact…
With this particular landscape architecture project, what was the most difficult issue your firm faced or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought and unique approaches in the project?
For our team, I think that challenging the traditional definition of a playground was a really difficult obstacle to overcome. Traditional playgrounds are incredibly compact, efficient pieces of equipment that have been carefully designed as a kit-of-parts. However in studying the other play environments within the City of Greensboro, we realized that while they all promoted physical activity well, they were lacking in two areas: the promotion of imagination and creativity, and providing an enjoyable environment for parents. For us, creating a new definition of a playground that encompassed all of these ideas, and was simultaneously embedded into the landscape, was our biggest challenge.
In general, do you feel that the role of the landscape architect is changing on similar project types? Did this project expand or evolve your role as a landscape architect in any way?
By working in a 40-acre park, this project allowed my teammates and myself to really think about a bigger environment, rather than just the pieces of architecture within it. I think this project changed the way I think about architecture, and has taught me the importance of the connection between built and natural environments. As I move forward in my career, I hope that with every project I am a part of, I can create architecture that is grounded to its natural environment, and closely tied to its cultural context.
How is your installation or project possible today in a way that it may not have been in the past, and how have current trends or thoughts in landscape architecture inspired new creative solutions?
I think the project was possible because we are an educational program, and because of all of our supporters. By being an educational program, Auburn University Rural Studio has the opportunity to take on projects that others can’t. As students, and then volunteers within the program, my teammates and myself spent two years completely focused on the design and construction of the Playscape, Everything was our responsibility; designing and detailing, building mockups, load testing with engineers, raising money, seeking material donations, and finally building the project.
On top of that, we are fortunate enough to have the support of Auburn University, a group of consultants, our donors, and our community partners. These groups were incredibly supportive throughout the entire design and construction process in every sense, whether it was helping us review design work, donating their time or resources, or even bringing us hot chocolate on the coldest days on the job site. Without their support, the project would not have been possible.
In the context of this project, how is your office and your design process being influenced by current thoughts in academic curricula? In turn, are your current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
What is special about Rural Studio to me is that it is an academic program within Auburn University that challenges the traditional architectural education by giving their students hands on learning, while simultaneously embedding the students into a completely different cultural environment. In all of the Studio’s projects, the students continue to creatively recycle, remake and reuse materials while simultaneously utilizing sustainable, renewable local resources. Some work in the public realm on a variety of complex, large-scale, community-based projects. Some study the studio itself, and question what we eat, consume, and waste. Some research and reflect critically on the challenges of creating well-designed, durable, buildable, dignified, and affordable housing. All of our students combine this design and build experience with the Studio’s ethic of craft, which I think creates a great balance of academic and professional experience that is unlike any other program.