Trinity School Plan, Bay Area

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“In both natural and humanly created worlds, design is the organizing principle. Ecological design is the art and science of designing an appropriate fit between the human environment and the natural world. Ecological design can be viewed as the link between culture, nature, and technology which begins with an intimate knowledge of a particular place.” Sim Van der Ryn

Trinity School is a primary school of approximately 150 students in first through fifth grades with a campus that is shared with St. Bebe’s Church. To comply with new state playground standards, Trinity School took the initiative to develop a comprehensive plan of the campus as a whole, including parking requirements, future building needs, play field development, as well as gardens, pathways, and native planting areas.

The subsequent masterplan is the product of a collaborative effort between the students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members and civic officials. Through a series of small focus groups, larger design charettes, and hands-on student projects, design input for a wide range of interests was included. As a critical component of this process, students were introduced to the concepts of ecological design by participating in campus mapping, plant identification, ground truthing and environmental site analysis.

By this process, students developed an understanding of the many ways design interconnects the systems of the natural and built environments. Students had the opportunity to learn the basis of practical and professional skills while gaining a sense of ownership and pride that comes from direct responsibility of designing their own surroundings. In addition, as designers, the students began to recognize that they can have control over decisions that directly effect them. This gives the sense of self empowerment and ultimately leads to the practice of environmental stewardship.