AMES, IOWA - Arboretum

Fall 2015

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Assignment: Explore new learning experiences through the design of an Ecology Center. This should provide new ways of seeing the natural world around us. Middle school and high school students would be bussed here for one day of the year to learn about the world around them. Faculty would work here full-time. The design should redefine learning environments to some degree. 4000 sqft maximum.

Approach: My design is aimed to provide atypical learning environments for the students by exposing them to nature, while also maintaining an appropriate, functional program for the full-time staff to use daily. To achieve this, the building is composed of two wings (one primarily for staff and one primarily for students) with an entry “thorax”. An important emphasis was also put on the research lab by centralizing it and exposing it to the entry space and the exterior.  I saw this as an opportunity to highlight where the students get hands-on experience studying the nature which envelopes them.

There are several unique design aspects used in this building. Starting with the exterior, there are three outdoor spaces, each with a unique focus. There is the outdoor classroom (learn), the entrance plaza (gather), and the shared classroom terrace (collaborate). As previously stated, there is also a centralized lab which is exposed on the interior and exterior. To introduce elements of flexibility, unique classroom environments are created through use of a foldable wall and bean bags to allow for a wide variety of arrangements.