UH Students Building Solar-Powered Classroom for Alief Community Garden

It all started with some inspiration and seeds. Now, a community garden in Houston’s Alief area is bringing neighbors together to plant and harvest vegetables. Still, the hot Texas sun presents challenges during the long hours required to make this garden thrive.

Alief gardeners soon will have it made in the shade. The University of Houston’s Graduate Design/Build Studio (GDBS) is contributing a new outdoor classroom to the garden’s site. This steel, solar-powered shade structure will provide community members with a place to cool off, as well as a perfect space for educational demonstrations on planting, cooking, vegetables and other topics. The garden and classroom site are located across the street from Youngblood Intermediate School (at Beechnut Street and Dairy View Lane) on property owned by Alief Independent School District. Once completed, the school can use the classroom for outdoor activities.

The structure is scheduled to be completed by early August.

GDBS comprises graduate architecture students, who are designing and building this structure. The outdoor classroom is the 23rd project from the studio, which creates community amenities such as this each summer.

Just as Houston neighborhoods benefit from GDBS projects, students gain valuable experience as they build and install these structures. The team is led by Patrick Peters, GDBS director and UH architecture professor, and receives consultation from other faculty members.

“I’m looking forward to learning about steel fabrication and getting my hands dirty,” said GDBS student Tiger Lyon. “A studio like this is critical for architecture students. Instead of being based in theory, it shows students the entire architectural process.”

“I am always pleased to see studio students learn about the construction industry and the implications of their design ideas,” Peters added. “This particular project is a very good example of our students’ bold ideas that were developed in response to this particular site.”

Powered by four solar panels (generating 800 watts of electricity), the classroom will have a ceiling fan to provide relief from the heat and lights for nighttime activities. It also will include concrete benches and a slanted roof that will direct rain through a gutter system and into eight connected rain barrels. Collected rainwater can then be used in the garden.

“This project will have two distinct functions,” Peters said. “It will serve as a shading area, as well as a visible landmark. It was designed in direct response to the area’s wide open landscape.”

The façade of the classroom will be constructed from perforated steel panels to allow for ventilation. Panels will be arranged, so that the word “Alief” will be easily visible. It will be paved with decomposed granite and will be 20 feet long, 20 feet wide and 20 feet in height.

Houston’s SPARK School Park Program is funding this construction of the classroom structure with support from Alief Independent School District. Alief International District, which manages the garden, will fund the construction of the concrete benches. Youngblood students will contribute to the project by providing artwork for the benches. Coca-Cola is providing the rain barrels and United Galvanizing will galvanize the steel used to build the structure. The garden’s master plan was developed by UH architecture professor Susan Rogers in collaboration with the Alief International District. Other collaborators include architect Christof Spieler and Tolunay-Wong Engineers Inc.

“It’s cool to know that we’re building something that will be a part of this community,” Lyon said. “I look forward  to seeing how the community adopts it.”

GDBS is part of UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture. Past community projects include a solar shade tree for McReynolds Middle School and an amphitheater classroom for T.H. Rogers School. To learn more about GDBS, visit http://www.uh.edu/gdbs/.

The Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines including architecture, space architecture, interior architecture and industrial design. Faculty members include esteemed professionals in the architectural community, as well as award-winning academic veterans. Facilities include studio spaces, the new Materials Research Collaborative, computer labs and the Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Exploration Center. To learn more about the college, visit http://www.arch.uh.edu/.

Outdoor Classroom