October 26, 2006

School’s design reflects its humanist curriculum

  • The Institute for Community Leadership’s expanded campus will demonstrate an interdependence with nature while promoting an environment for non-violence education and poetry.
    Jones & Jones

    Image courtesy of Stephanie Bower
    Buildings at the Jack Hunter O’Dell Education and Reflection Center aspire to achieve a LEED silver rating.

    The Institute for Community Leadership’s Jack Hunter O’Dell Education and Reflection Center provides leadership training for middle- and high-school students through non-violence education and poetry. Curriculum at the center includes the lessons of humanist leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Cesar Chavez.

    The center’s 14-acre campus in Covington, in the Cascade foothills, provides a natural setting for learning, occupying a meadow site amid a fir and cedar forest that is actively used for animal husbandry and agriculture.

    ICL needed more education space, due to its rapidly growing program, and hired Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects to design a new campus. The first phase comprises a learning center, workshop studio and gathering plaza — all embodying the program’s foundation of civic leadership.

    When completed in 2008, the new buildings will provide space for large groups, classes, and small group study; and they will employ sustainable methods to reduce energy consumption and water use.

    The primary goal behind the architectural design is to not only preserve, but also enhance the campus’ dynamic qualities. To reduce its demand on natural resources, ICL elected to have the new structures designed to LEED silver or higher certification.

    Design that advocates change

    As Gandhi once said: “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” ICL believes in and promotes many types of change — in cultural attitudes, global awareness and leadership education — as well as its own evolving teaching methodology. ICL’s buildings also must be prepared for change, through multiple scales of use in conversation and interaction.

    In the facility’s design, large spaces can be broken down for small group workshops, while even smaller niches between windows and cabinets allow for singular study or meditation. Interior materials, such as wood and natural fibers, soften the acoustic qualities, ensuring ease of conversation.

    The buildings will open to the landscape with sliding doors, letting activities flow in or out and welcoming the woodland into the learning environment. Curving plaza seat walls, an outdoor fireplace, groves of native trees, and open spaces support outdoor gathering for groups from two to 500 people.

    Creating an adaptable place promotes the center’s growth and flexibility, while allowing educators to become students of their own work and adapt from their successes.

    Listening to the land

    Site analysis, study of both human and animal users, and a two-year “trial period” on the property provided opportunities to become familiar with the site’s characteristic qualities. A bridge over a salmon-bearing stream welcomes visitors, while a vernal creek — also home to salmon — bookends the site at the edge of a woodland greenbelt. Fox, coyote, birds and deer enter the meadows from the greenbelt, which creates overlapping ecological forces with the center’s community-based study areas.

    By understanding and listening to the land’s forces, the design team and client learned how to engage in a dialogue with the site and manifest this relationship through context-sensitive design.


    Image courtesy of Stephanie Bower
    Jones & Jones designed large spaces in the learning center to be broken down for small groups, while niches between windows and cabinets allow for individual study.

    Martin Luther King Jr. has stated: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ICL finds ways to illustrate the interdependence we share as Earth’s citizens through its curriculum. The design team incorporates water flow through the campus to illustrate this interdependence and convey the notion that water is essential to life on Earth and links us to the whole environment. The human body is made of water, and the Northwest region’s signature creature — the Pacific salmon — is greatly impacted by humans’ stewardship of water.

    By celebrating and revering water, the center’s design will teach by example, honoring water through education and architectural storytelling, visibly catching and slowing rainwater, marking its path, borrowing from its source, and slowly releasing it back to the site. In this way, the message of water’s vitality as a natural resource is not left untold, and is a visible case for treating the community and environment with respect.

    The buildings reach upward with “butterfly” roofs that direct rainwater toward their centers. Water from the learning center roof is collected in a cistern used for flushing toilets and irrigation, offsetting the consumption of clean drinking water.

    A living roof on the workshop studio building slows the rainwater runoff path, while providing habitat for insects and birds. Overflowing rainwater will be conveyed through the plaza by visible means to constructed wetlands, allowing it to percolate back into the ground as it provides habitat and focal points for education.

    Consideration of water at all scales, from site design through its use and conveyance, will positively impact the local watershed as it teaches future ecological stewards to treat all water with respect.

    “Water’s renewal and transformation apparent in Jones & Jones’ design work and its intentional interconnection with surrounding ecosystems invite visitors to explore and reflect on the nonviolence work of ICL,” stated Karen Bohlke, ICL cofounder and development director. “The living design maximizes the site’s ability to serve as a dynamic, flexible, scalable learning environment for our students and teachers.”

    Doing more with less

    ICL teaches youth to become responsible citizens, while the buildings are created as examples of how to create a permanent facility that sets the precedent for future developments.

    Sound ecological principles form the core of the center’s design. By borrowing energy from the sun, breezes and stormwater, the center’s consumptive impact is reduced. Thoughtful selection of construction materials reduces the embodied energy, the total amount of energy used to produce these materials.

    Spaces will be lit by diffuse sunlight. Cooling will be provided by the shade of trees and natural ventilation, and heating will be provided by geothermal wells. By creating a facility that does more with less and minimizes energy use, ICL continues its missions of education, ecological awareness and reverence of the land.

    Fund-raising and schematic design of the campus is under way, with construction planned for late 2007.

    Mark T. Johnson, AIA and LEED AP, is an architect with Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects in Seattle. He specializes in ecologically and culturally sustainable architecture integrated with the landscape.

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