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College of Environment and Design

Community Landscape Lab Studio Engages in Service-Learning

community landscape lab

Katherine Melcheran associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Environment and Design, has created the Community Landscape Lab to engage students and community groups using landscape architecture as the means to acuate social change. Through the Community Landscape Lab, Professor Melcher partners students with clients in a Master's level Landscape Architecture (MLA) studio to provide stakeholders with design concepts and engagement strategies useful to the community. Bringing more awareness to the lab's work, students developed a blog to publish information about the projects they are working on, including background information, weekly updates on community feedback, and their design recommendations. 

Landscapes for Remembrance
The Community Landscape Lab gained ground last semester when the MLA studio focused on two projects: the Brooklyn Cemetery Landscape Project and Kate’s Club Landscape Project. Not far from the center of Athens, the Brooklyn Cemetery was established in 1880 to serve Athens’ growing African American population. In partnership with the Friends of Brooklyn Cemetery and the Trustees of Brooklyn Cemetery, Master’s students Shihui Deng, David Evans, Aron Hall, and Adedamola Okunmadewa worked to collect community input on a restored site plan and detailed design elements.

Landscapes for Healing
The second project that the studio focused on is Kate's Club, a non-profit organization located in Atlanta, GA. The club aims to "empower children having experienced the loss of a parent or a sibling through advocacy, recreational and group support programs, engagement, and education. The club believes in the power of healing community to overcome that grief." In collaboration with Kate's Club, Master's students Emily Whisenant, Joshua Goeden, and Pranisha Karmacharya created designs for a healing garden with community members' input. In speaking with Debra Brook, Director of Volunteer Services at Kate's Club, the team was directed to create an interactive outdoor space that would allow children to be able to spend as much time outside as possible while also encouraging the sensory experiences of the natural world such as touch and smell.

To safely receive community feedback in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, both teams had to be creative with organizing meetings with stakeholders. The Brooklyn Cemetery team held hybrid meetings where people could attend in person and social distance or join virtually. The team for Kate’s Club used both virtual meetings and experimented with using the Google Slides platform to showcase their designs. The group found that Google Slides gave their stakeholders the ability to offer feedback on a more flexible schedule, optimizing the overall feedback they received. According to Emily Whisenant, a third-year MLA student in Professor Melcher’s studio, partnering with Kate’s Club through the Community Landscape Lab allowed “many of the students first-time experience engaging with clients outside of the college, and gave the students a valuable skill set to be able to garner community engagement with an entirely online platform”.

The students worked on this project for the duration of the semester, giving them the opportunity to see the project through from initial concepts to construction documents and implementation guidelines. As stated in the studio blog, Professor Melcher believes that “by working closely with community groups throughout the design process, students develop practical design projects that can transform everyday landscapes into meaningful and useful places”.

To learn more about the Brooklyn Cemetery and Kate's Club projects, please see the students’ Community Landscape Lab blog.

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