Pat Neff Elementary School
Built in 1962, Pat Neff Elementary School has long been a cornerstone of the Sharpstown neighborhood on Houston's southwest side. While the current student body at Neff Elementary is socially, economically and culturally diverse, the school's fine arts-focused curriculum serves as a tool to unite the students through artistic expression. In addition to mathematics, language, science and social studies, students participate in painting, ceramics, music and drama on a daily basis. In order to further enhance the students’ educational experience, the leadership at Pat Neff Elementary partnered with its Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and the University of Houston’s Graduate Design/Build Studio in 2009 to improve the school’s unshaded central courtyard, a stepped concrete space virtually untouched since its construction over five decades ago.
GD/BS was tasked with designing a structure for Pat Neff Elementary to meet a variety of criteria – it was to create additional shade for the central courtyard, provide and outdoor instruction place for classes and serve as a performance stage for plays and musical performances. After a comprehensive design phase, the GD/BS students presented and were granted approval for its Solar Shade Tree in April of 2009.
The Solar Shade Tree at Neff Elementary utilizes a complex steel structure and multi-plate roof design, which allows an unobstructed view of the deck from the courtyard, a feature desired due to the Solar Shade Tree’s use as a performance stage. A divided, cast-in-place concrete basin serves as both a planter and a rainwater collection reservoir, which waters the plans and slows the runoff into storm sewers. Finally, a small deck bridge is incorporated into the design, giving access to what was once an inaccessible courtyard.