New Sustainable Learning Space celebrates place-based learning and community

Designing an outdoor educational space to honor a former staff member, fulfill students’ Capstone requirements, and meet UW building regulations, all within budget and time constraints, is no small feat.

However, this Spring, with the support of a slew of collaborators, a vibrant outdoor learning space, located on the northern side of the School of Aquatic and Fisheries lawn was built. The garden space, adorned with nature-themed quotes, hand-crafted wood benches, native plants, a bioswale and rain garden is the result of a tremendous team effort by students, faculty and staff across campus.

With appreciation and thanks to the Campus Sustainability Fund; UW Landscape Architecture and its annual Design/Build course; UW Department of Urban Design & Planning; UW Department of Facilities Maintenance & Construction, UW’s Office of the University Architect, and the generosity of donors to Tikvah’s Fund, this learning and teaching space is open to all on UW campus, to gather, study and learn.

Tikvah Weiner.

In honor of Tikvah

Tikvah Weiner was beloved at UW, and during her time working at the Program on the Environment, she touched many with her warm personality and genuine care for others.

“She always had a smile on her face and her ebullience and personable manner helped defuse tension; she was driven to bring people together” shares Julia Parrish, who was director of Program on the Environment for part of the time Tikvah was the program’s graduate program adviser and then administrator.

When Tikvah’s health deteriorated with her breast cancer diagnosis, Julia and Landscape Architecture faculty member Ken Yocom, a former program advisory board member, worked to establish a gift fund in her honor. Tikvah loved gardens and expressed a desire to have a space for student use, in the urban environment, as a demonstration of sustainable practices. In this spirit, the learning space and garden will hold space for collaboration, contemplation and camaraderie.

Students shoveling in the garden.
Students shoveling sections of the raingarden.

Collaborating to foster a living lab

The initial plans for the garden location had to be changed and along with students from Landscape Architecture and Program on the Environment, the advisory group mulled over options, quickly. Howard Nakase from UW Grounds suggested the northern part of the Fisheries Lawn, in part for its existing trees and habitat, and from there, the team re-envisioned the original models for the space and completed the project in mere weeks.

Through this interactive experience, students learned about the practicalities of augmenting the built environment—from adapting to planning modifications, applying construction and fabrication skills, to grappling with the incessant blackberry bush growth and the challenges of incorporating sustainable building elements that matched the project’s needs.

Tori Shao shoveling in the garden.
Tori Shao at work in the garden.

For Tori Shao, the student lead on the project and a Landscape Architecture major, the collaborative aspect was a highlight. “I had to learn how to speak in another language when translating the landscape jargon to students from the Program on the Environment,” mused Shao. “I really appreciated how we moved forward to work within the project parameters and how resilient we were in terms of the constraints we had! Learning conversations and flexibility were key.”

Sustainability in action

This project, in large part funded by a Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF), is one of the first of its kind in terms of building a highly visible and usable outdoor space on the UW campus that takes into consideration the complex elements of a changing physical landscape, restoration of an urban area, hydroecology and nurturing of native plants.

“The collaboration and creativity of all made this project possible,” says Kyle McDermott, who was the CSF liaison and helped with coordination and facilitation. “CSF’s mission is to drive change on campus and empower students to use UW as a living lab. This project embodied these goals.”

Mobile wood chairs, built by the Design Build Landscape Architecture students.
Mobile wood chairs, built by the Design Build Landscape Architecture students.

Creating a space with sustainable elements meant many things. Tori Shao shared that the design team thought through everything from the materials, to the use of space as an educational one, to the potential for restoring the natural habitat.

The brightly colored steel and wood chairs with flowing, organic form were designed and fabricated by students with mobility in mind. The five benches around the garden were built from slabs of a felled Sequoia tree that had been struck by lightning on UW’s campus. The student team was enthusiastic to have the CSF-funded Salvage Wood program as a resource when selecting materials and re-envisioning what sustainability meant in the context of the project.

Program on the Environment students learned about bioswale, garden management and incorporated elements of sustainability and eco-psychology. Together, the students contributed to on-site work, selecting and planting Bunny in the gardennative species, weeding, paving pathways and building an ADA accessible space, including interpretive signage around the rain garden, home to native and pollinator plants, birds and the occasional bunny.

For Madeline Schroeder, the spirit in which the space was created will motivate the longer-term care of the garden. “Even in the future, when students look upon this garden and ask how the snags got there or what the purpose of the rain garden is, Tikvah will still be inspiring thought and wisdom. It is for this reason, the ability to contribute to a learning experience unbound by time by an inspiring and well-missed individual, that I decided to take part in this independent study.”

The Sustainable Learning Space is meant for everyone on campus, and stands as an example of a team effort to encourage active learning spaces on campus, to demonstrate the creative work of students, and to provide a contemplative, beautiful space to remember Tikvah.

“This project really captures the very essence of Tikvah: natural, learning-oriented, and beautiful. She cared so much about our students and community, and would be thrilled about the students’ involvement in its design and creation.” – Clare Ryan, former director of Program on the Environment

The project team posing for a group photo.
A large part of the project’s team, posing at the end of quarter to celebrate the completion of the project.


Update: See photos taken during the commemoration of the garden space.