LA Students Participate in 2019 "Come Alive Outside Design Challenge"

Posted on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

Written by Larry Harder

“Come Alive Outside Design Challenge” at Archbishop O’Sullivan Catholic School in Kingston, Ontario.  October 17-19, 2019.

On a Saturday morning at the end of October last year the gymnasium of an elementary school was abuzz with the happy noises of a large crowd energetically re-imagining the schoolyard as an enriched environment to celebrate learning, physical activity, community, and nature. 

The event at Archbishop O’Sullivan Catholic School in the Kingston suburbs was the culmination of a three-day charrette called the “Come Alive Outside Design Challenge.”   But for the participants from both the BLA and MLA programs at Guelph, it was an event they had been preparing for since the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester.

The “Design Challenge” was a community engagement project in the form of a competition involving multiple stakeholders: a half dozen Ontario colleges and universities, high school students from around the province, landscape design professionals, the School Board, the City of Kingston, and most importantly the students, teachers and parents of the school.  The very efficient and proficient organizers were a non-profit organization called “Come Alive Outside,” in association with Landscape Ontario, and assisted by Wentworth Landscaping.  This was the latest in a series of similar projects initiated by Come Alive Outside throughout Canada and the United States.  In the fall 2018, Guelph LA student volunteers participated in a similar project supervised by Nadia Amoroso.

This time, eleven Guelph students were involved, including MLA2s, and BLA3s and BLA4s.  The project was run as a course for credit, taught by Larry Harder, with each student registered for an independent study or special study.  We met “seminar style” prior to the 2½ day long charrette.  By the time we got to Kingston we were well prepared, having presented group seminars on play, outdoor learning environments, environmental education, and public engagement, and taken a photographic site tour.  After the dynamic and very inspiring three days in Kingston, we came back to the studio in Guelph, divided into two groups to generate final design proposals to be in competition with the other post-secondary institutions.  In the design phase we collaboratively critiqued each others’ work, and had the professional critique of Paul Brydges, a Guelph Landscape Architect, former head of Landscape Ontario, and a UofG BLA alumnus.

Certainly, the highlight was the 2½ days in Kingston. The venue for all the hard work of getting organized was the Holiday Inn in the downtown Kingston Waterfront, which on the first night was the headquarters for our initial orientation, in a meeting room with a view over the harbour, filled with the assembled and very enthusiastic students and faculty advisors from all the educational institutions, supplemented by numbers professionals.  I might add that in the crowd were many Guelph alumni.   The apparent chaos was adeptly managed by the organizers, who expertly partitioned us into groups that mixed up all the participants.  The following night the same room was filled with a well-spring of creative ideas and proposals which evolved in those same groups into the wee hours.

Unquestionably, the most fun of all was the time spent at the school.  The first day we were immersed in the excitement and energy of the students from kindergarten to Grade 8, with the teachers and staff of the school.  We watched the kids on the playground.  In our mixed groups we talked with them, played with them, drew with them, and imagined with them.  We listened to their stories, we made wish-lists, and together we identified priorities.  And then we headed back to that same hotel meeting room which had been morphed into a design studio to see if we could capture this creative energy into design proposals to transform the schoolyard.  It was these ideas that were packaged together that Saturday morning in the gym, abuzz with the school community–students, their parents and their families, and other community members–all of whom had been invited to review and comment on the outcomes of the hard work.

Student drawing at table with student lookingPhoto above:  BLA student Shannon Dore consulting with student group.

With the afterglow of the charrette, the post-secondary teams returned home to prepare final competitive proposals, including budgets, in their own institutions, which were submitted in early December, after a feedback loop from professionals.  All the proposals were reviewed according to a rubric by a panel from the school community and the professionals, and voted on by the students.

View all the COA design submissions for the 2019 Come Alive Outside here
UofG Team One - "Discovery Play" produced by Shannon Dore, Lea Gagon, Mirangiz Hamidullah, Jacob Tempan and Xinyi (Flaky) Zhao. 
UofG Team Two - "The Hive" produced by Grace Christie, Tomas Cortes, Jacob Gorveatt, Camille Kaufmann, Winona Khuu and Jingyi (Evelyn) Yang.  

Students and parents looking at design work at Open HousePhoto Above:  MLA student Tomas Cortes discussing design at the Open House.

Alas, things do not always turn out as you would like!  The two Guelph teams submitted two awesome schemes.  But when the winner was announced in January, in the estimation of the jury and “peoples’ choice” vote of the Archbishop O’Sullivan students, another scheme was selected as more awesome.  Also, unfortunately, hoped for co-operation with high school students from GVCI in Guelph did not happen for unforseen circumstances.  And finally, the intention of the project was to advance the winning proposal to a first phase of construction by professionals in the spring of 2020.  Most unfortunately of all, for Archbishop O’Sullivan School, the pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into that idea (for the moment).

So, we did not win the competition.  But, to resort to an old and overused (but relevant) cliché: in this project no one was a loser.  For all involved, it was an amazing experience, demonstrating yet again that design is remarkable tool for bringing community together and striving to make the world a better place, one schoolyard at a time.

The exciting news is that there may be another “Come Alive Outside Design Challenge” this fall, and another opportunity for Guelph students to participate, albeit adapted to an online/remote format as made necessary by the pandemic.  This year Prof. Brendan Stewart will be taking the lead. Student registration will happen in early September.

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