Design Build - Outdoor Pavilion for Environmental Education

Outdoor Pavilion for Environmental Education

Coleman Coker, University of Texas at Austin


This semester-long studio uses a civic-based approach where students work outside the traditional academic setting for a non-profit stakeholder. As a methodological strategy, students benefit in four ways:

1) They learn about the local ecology of which their project becomes a part. Students learn from environmentalists, master naturalists and biologists who teach them about the local ecological system. What they learn better informs them about their design strategies, better preparing them to work in this time of the Anthropocene.

2) They acquire communication skills (orally/graphically) through learning to listen. Doing so, they better measure the needs of their stakeholder; improving their own communication abilities for a more appropriate project.

3) They test their design ideas by building what they design, learning how to translate their ideas into reality. They learn to work within specific time and budgetary constraints, making them more responsible designers. They learn that limitation is an ally; that constraints
shouldn’t cause them to produce less-inspiring design. Through a design/build approach students evaluate their design intention, both in the immediate and the long-term. First by critiquing their finished work. And second, since this is an ongoing long-term program, future
students can measure the outcomes of their predecessors which teach them about their own design approach.

4) They learn design ethics through practicing civic responsibility. Designing/building inspiring places for the public to learn about their local ecology—how to better nurture safeguard and protect it—students learn the lessons of contributing to the greater good, becoming more responsive to the needs of their own community.

In learning through thinking and doing this way, our future generation of designers become more effective catalysts for change.

Description: Galveston Island State Park, just south of Houston, is one of the most visited parks in Texas. The park has an active environmental education program to foster respect and care for the coastal environment. Their environmental educator works with middle and high school students on field trips to better inform them—the next generation—so that they develop long-lasting respect and value their local environment.

To this end, architecture students partnered with Texas Parks & Wildlife to design and build an outdoor classroom where ecological literacy could be taught by their environmental educator. The architecture students also her prior to the design process, learning lessons of environmental responsibility that informed their design. The student’s take away the lessons of seeing their work as one tiny part of the greater environmental whole; how to become better stewards of their own environment.

The 450-square-foot structure, nestled between eighteen-foot-high yaupon holly, sits on Galveston Bay. The design has gabion walls of recycled concrete; a talking point for the environmental educator to describe the importance of recycling. The wall protects visitors from afternoon sun while offering enclosure. Sections of the wall have slots and tubes to accommodate native lizards, pollinators, and other tiny creatures typical there. This inhabited feature is a living laboratory when describing the Gulf Coast’s interdependent flora and fauna. Roof and wall screens maximize shade for visitors.