UH Architecture Students Designing, Constructing 'Solar Shade Tree' for Houston's McReynolds Middle School

Every day, Houston’s McReynolds Middle School grows young minds. Growing lush trees to provide relief from the hot sun, however, can be a much slower process.

With one mature tree on campus, these middle schoolers don’t necessarily have it “made in the shade” when they emerge from class. Thanks to the talents of students from the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, McReynolds students soon will have a cool new addition to their school.

The college’s Graduate Design Build Studio (GDBS) is creating a solar shade tree for the school. This galvanized steelSolar Shade Tree “tree” will provide students with a shaded area with seating that is perfect for socializing and studying. Overlooking McReynolds’ two competition soccer fields, the solar shade tree has another cool factor: two solar-powered ceiling fans. Four solar panels (150 watts each) will power the fans, as well as lighting. The structure will be nearly 13 feet wide, 44 feet long and 12 feet in height. It is scheduled to be installed by Aug. 9 and will compliment several young trees that are starting to take shape at McReynolds, as well as the school’s older live oak.

 “This will be a structure that students will gravitate to,” said Patrick Peters, director of the GDBS. “It also will be a space that teachers will use. Our team has met with several teachers from McReynolds, who are anxious to use this structure as a space for learning and as a basis for various lessons.”

This is the 22nd annual project undertaken by Peters and his GDBS students. Each year, the studio concentrates on contributing community-enhancing structures to schools, parks and non-profit organizations.

Communities benefit from structures such as this year’s solar shade tree, and so do the first year graduate students that comprise the studio. These students don’t just conceptualize GDBS projects; they actively build and install every structure. Likewise, they manage every aspect of each project including budgets, permits and logistics.

“We have a part in everything that goes into building a structure,” said GDBS student Ryan Slattery, who is among the students overseeing the budget for the solar shade tree. “We’ve gone from simple diagrams to complex drawings to putting our hands on the materials and working with vendors and engineers.”

In addition to receiving hands-on experience, GDBS students learn how to apply their respective talents to the final product. Many studio students come from non-architectural academic backgrounds and must utilize different skills during the project’s development. Slattery received his undergraduate degree in political science and said that his negotiating talents have come in handy during the budget process.

 “We’re learning a lot in this studio,” said GDBS student Bricio Vasquez. “But, this project is for the McReynolds students. They’re going to define what this structure will mean to their school. I’m just glad we can provide this service to them.”


Solar Shade Tree