UH Students Collaborating to Create Solar-Powered Outdoor Kitchen

Educational Structure to Complement Community Garden at the Park at Palm Center

Houston’s Palm Center (at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Griggs Road) has gone from shopping mecca to modest business center. Now, University of Houston faculty and students are helping transform the area around the southeast Houston staple into a peaceful place for community events and gatherings.

Among the recent projects at the site is a solar-powered outdoor demonstration kitchen that will complement a planned community garden. This versatile structure recently was designed by UH architecture and graphic communications students and is scheduled to be installed by fall.

Solar KitchenThis semester, the students collaborated on this pavilion that will serve as a shaded learning area and can host cooking or food demonstrations. Overseeing this project are Patrick Peters, professor in UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, and Cheryl Beckett, professor of graphic communications in the university’s School of Art.

Prefabricated from high-strength steel, the structure will have four photovalic solar panels (800 watts) on its roof to power a ceiling fan, lighting and electrical outlets (that can power appliances for cooking demonstrations). It also will contain cisterns to harvest rainwater for use in plant and garden irrigation. Informational signage will be placed on the structure and offer short facts on health, nutrition and sustainability.

 “The signage we created is whimsical and inviting,” said senior graphic communication student Taylor George. “It also was important to make the messages on these signs meaningful and relevant. People who come to the garden should be able to enjoy these signs and learn from them, too.”

Once installed, the structure will offer southeast Houston residents a unique learning tool. During the course of the semester, however, the project provided both architecture and graphic communications students lessons in interdisciplinary collaborations.

“This is when projects become real,” said fourth-year architecture student Aldo Diaz. “In the professional world, architects have to work with experts in other disciplines and vice versa. This project allows us to do that while building our portfolios and creating something for the community.”

The outdoor demonstration kitchen and community garden will be in the Park at Palm Center, which is being developed by The OST/Almeda Corridors Redevelopment Authority, UH’s Southeast Houston Initiative and community partners. In 2011, the Southeast Houston Initiative received a $100,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help enhance the park with public art and other amenities.

Asakura Robinson Company is developing the community garden and will oversee the installation of the outdoor kitchen.

“For many of these students, this is the first time they have worked on an actual design-build project,” Peters said. “This gives them the chance to collaborate on a project and shepherd it through its construction. By the time they graduate, they’ll have a project under theirSolar Kitchen belts that’s part of the city’s landscape.”

This project is the latest collaborative community project undertaken by architecture and graphic communications students. Previous works include “WorkingShop,” an installation that celebrates the history of Houston’s historic Ryan Middle School. Another project “Dis(solve): Natural Signs” focused on providing signs and amenities to the city’s Japhet Creek. That particular project received the Mayor’s Proud Partner Award in 2010. It also was recognized by the Society for Environmental Graphic Design.