UofG Landscape Architecture Students Win the 2020 "Come Alive Outside" Design Challenge

Posted on Monday, February 22nd, 2021

Written by Isaac Hendrickson

Congratulations to the UofG Landscape Architecture student design challenge team for winning the 2020 Come Alive Outside Design Challenge.

Held annually since 2016, the Come Alive Outside design competition is a design contest wherein teams of university and college students in the landscape design field work together with elementary, middle, and high school students and design professionals to design and ultimately build natural playgrounds and schoolyards. Normally the competition runs in the form of a design charette in which participants come together in one place to design and brainstorm. Obviously, this year that was not an option. Instead, Come Alive Outside hosted its first ever virtual charette. In October, students, teachers, and parents of Nicholson Catholic College and St. Michaels Catholic School in Belleville, Ontario, competing students and design professionals from Come Alive Outside, Wentworth Landscapes, Brydges Landscape Architecture, and others convened to launch the project. After a virtual tour of the site, participants engaged with the students, with the Guelph team assigned to the 6th grade class at St. Michael’s. As expected, the elementary students’ imaginations had no limit. Ideas ranged from animal habitats and ninja obstacle courses to vending machines and paintball. Consistent themes that emerged were wildlife habitat, natural play, and the incorporation of water. The Guelph team had their work cut out for them. It was time to get to it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous obstacles to traditional workflows, especially group work. Working under the supervision of LA faculty member, Brendan Stewart, Assistant Professor, the University of Guelph team consisted of two 4th year BLAs: Michael Banks and Isaac Hendrickson, a 3rd year: Christie So, and a MLA master’s student: Diego Alvarez. Under normal circumstances, the team would have worked together in studio, made some printouts, pulled out the tape and trace, and gotten to work. This year things were a little more complicated than that. Using several different platforms, mainly Miro and Microsoft Teams, the team moved their collaboration online. Using Miro, they were able to post precedent imagery and base plans, and sketch, draw, and design in real-time. Although they would have preferred working together in person, Miro proved to be a valuable alternative, and they spent hours on calls talking about ideas, sketching, and revising their designs. After several weeks, a rough design emerged. After a positive review of the conceptual design by the school and the various professionals involved, the team felt confident enough to move towards a final design.

Early conceptual work and precedents on Miro board (images, photos)Figure 1: Early conceptual work and precedents on Miro. Created by Isaac Hendrickson, Michael Banks, Christie So, and Diego Alvarez.0

The final design that emerged was one that prioritized natural play, community, education, and connection to nature, while still being cost-effective and practical. Another design requirement that the design addressed was the inclusion of the five senses, and the team even added a sixth: memory. This inspired the name of the design: the Sensorium, which is the part of the brain associated with sensation. Some of the principal elements of the design included a community grove meant to be a central gathering space for the community, a community garden, a play field, a natural obstacle course, multiple outdoor classrooms, an exploration zone, extensive wildlife supports, and a memorial orchard. The design also proposed that students and the community be involved in the construction whenever possible, not only to reduce costs, but also to educate and instill pride and sense of ownership. The teams full design board, narrative, and presentation video can be seen here: https://comealiveoutside.com/design-2020/, along with the fantastic submissions from Niagara College and Seneca College.

Schematic Master Plan (rendered and computer graphics)Figure 2: Schematic Master Plan. Created by Isaac Hendrickson, Michael Banks, Christie So, and Diego Alvarez.

Despite the unique challenges faced this year, all the participants of the competition were able to put forth strong, inspired, designs, and all the teams should be proud of their work. Construction of Phase 1 of the design is slated to begin this summer and the team cannot wait. It is their hope that the students of the schools, present and future, enjoy using the site as much as they enjoyed designing it, and that it will provide great memories and experiences for its users for many years to come.

Final Master Plan on schoolyard Figure 3: Final Master Plan. Created by Isaac Hendrickson, Michael Banks, Christie So, and Diego Alvarez.

To view all the submissions and the winning entry design boards, narrative and video, please visit the Come Alive Outside website.

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