"The Artists' Backyard" Takes Shape on NC State's Central Campus
Mud-caked boots, a flurry of shovels and hammers – and no shortage of sweat-streaked brows. For nearly a month now, that has been the bustling scene on a sliver of real estate nestled between Owen and Turlington Halls. And thanks to the tireless efforts of nearly two-dozen Landscape Architecture students, what was once an anonymous thicket separating the two buildings is quickly evolving into an ecologically-innovative haven for NC State students and staff.
Named 'The Artists' Backyard', and employing the imagination and skill of dozens of students and staff, the project is a partnership between NC State's Department of Landscape Architecture and University Housing. Phase I of a projected five-year production schedule is well underway and slated for completion in early August.
"We plan to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony midday on August 19, to coincide with the first week of classes," said Andy Fox, an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture who spearheaded the project.
Fox, two Teaching Assistants (Barry Duncil and Leslie Morefield Bartlebaugh) and 20 students enrolled in the Landscape Architecture department's design/build studio program have been working 8- and 12-hour days since the project's July 6 groundbreaking to ensure the effort stays on schedule.
A Partnership Is Born
The origin of the initiative stems from the success of last year's Syme Rain Garden installation (located behind Syme Hall on East Campus), which was funded by a $20,000 grant Fox pursued through the NC State Provost's office.
"Based on the success of that project – the amenity it created, and the ecological and environmental function it served – University Housing saw a real benefit to its purpose, and a successful partnership was born from that experience."
Dr. Tim Luckadoo, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, says the opportunity to collaborate and evolve the initiative was a no-brainer.
"The Syme Hall project exceeded my expectations," he said. "I was amazed at the quality of the design and the work, and I immediately sought out Andy to discuss additional projects.
After a series of negotiations and meetings, a five-year plan to fund work involving additional residence halls emerged.
"Andy came to us with some ideas of how we could get started with other potential design build projects, and that's how the ball got rolling," said University Housing Director, Susan Grant. "Through the success of this project, we hope to develop other natural common areas for students and guests to enjoy."
For Students, By Students
According to Fox, what distinguishes the 'The Artists' Backyard' initiative is that it was predominantly conceived, designed and built by participating students.
"The ultimate goal through this model of hands-on service learning is showing that you can really maximize the triple-bottom line, which is teaching, research and outreach," he said. "Why can't we do all three? That's the challenge – and the goal."
Helping achieve that goal is Kyle Stalls, a third-year Landscape Architecture student who has been involved with the initiative from the very beginning, even serving as co-designer of the project's current Phase I section.
"This has been a unique opportunity to take something from theory to reality," he said. "We've gotten a chance to get involved in the hard details of putting in the site, dealing with utilities, and having to make things work in real life. It's a challenging and rewarding experience."
Throughout the duration of the project, participants have taken careful measures to minimize their collective ecological footprint.
"We're doing this, partly, by utilizing Low Impact Development (LID) techniques to slow, capture and cleanse stormwater on site," said Fox, "and we're also repurposing the flagstone that was removed from the old Talley site (currently undergoing a demolition process). These rocks were destined for the landfill, so we're providing double the benefit – reduce what we buy new, and reduce what we dispose."
Safety and accessibility both play a significant role in the 'The Artists' Backyard' concept, according to Fox.
"Part of making this component successful will be creating a new, highly visible, universally accessible pathway connection, linking Cates Avenue to the site," he said. "It will conform to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards and will replace the existing concrete path, which includes a stairwell."
Fox added that accompanying walkways and plaza spaces will be free and clear of such debris as mulch, dirt and mud – formerly spawned by stormwater problems that have consistently plagued the area.
According to Dr. Tim Luckadoo, the project's impact and potential expands beyond the beautification of Central Campus.
"In addition to handling rainwater and functioning as an environmentally friendly space, this area serves an educational purpose," he said. "Students who pass through the site will not only enjoy the area's outdoor amenities, but will also learn about sustainable design and landscape management practices.
"It really fits in with what we want to do in terms of living and learning. We want our students who live on campus to learn in and explore their surroundings."
For up-to-date information on the 'The Artists' Backyard' design/build project, visit: ncsudesignbuild.wordpress.com
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