The South Mountain Annex Master Plan grew out of both practical and ideal visions for the property. From the practical side, the school grounds have significant stormwater issues. Several areas throughout the site get very muddy and wet after rainstorms and snowmelt. These mud spots limit where students can play, and sometimes even prevent them from going outdoors during lunch and recess.
The school also wanted to create ways to engage the natural world more directly for learning opportunities and student development. The Annex is situated in a unique place between a large recreational reserve (South Mountain Reservation) and a man-made wetlands. The property itself has many niches of ecological value however their health has been degraded. These spaces lack multi-layers of vegetation needed for a vibrant and exciting ecological experience.
The master plan wanted to address these practical issues as well as add to the list of deliverables. For example, the school area needed to consider placemaking as a design element. How could the master plan pull together all of the areas and make them feel both like one space as well as one place.
The design didn’t want to be contrived as a period piece adhering to a design execution that used historical references for solutions. Instead, the design looked at all of the problems and issues by asking, how can we embrace the issues and redefine them into assets? How can we keep the stormwater as is while adding to the overall enjoyment of it? Could it be the building blocks for an ecosystem for freeplay, learning and discovery?
From all of these consideration came the concept of:
Contemporary Ecology = Kids, Education & Nature + culture (maybe)
Contemporary Ecology is and isn’t about any one thing…it doesn’t try ot be a showcase for, say, sustainability yet every decision is from the mindset that everything needs to be sustainable and ecological. The same is true for education and kids. The goal of the master plan is to be absolutely and completely about providing enrichment for kids to learn and play, but it doesn’t prescribe what they means in the form of a play set or a monkey bars or a sandbox. The goal is to solve the practical issues the property faces in ways that also allows for play to be limitless.
The educational component is how the design is realized. Through conversations with teachers, administrators and parents, the master plan would be integrated into the curriculum. Students will be engaged through art, science, botany, design and biology to grow native plants in found objects, learn how to read technical landscape design documents and participate in designing specific aspects of the overall master plan. The role of the community at large is to come together to plant, maintain and enjoy the evolution of the master plan’s implementation.