Landscape Architecture Students Build New Orleans Schoolyard

When high school students at the Priestly School of Architecture and Construction in New Orleans return to school next month, they might not recognize the once-drab, asphalt schoolyard that’s located in the city’s Carrollton section. Over the summer, it has undergone a remarkable transformation, and now boasts giant planters full of drought-resistant plants, lush grasses, herbs and a variety of trees.

The schoolyard renovation comes courtesy of the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at LSU, which began working with the charter school three years ago on its schoolyard redesign. More recently, a group of second-year graduate students came up with a workable plan to turn the blacktop area into a green space. Over the summer they actually implemented the plan – just in time for the coming school year.

“The project’s aim was to take a pretty brutal environment and make it habitable through a large infusion of green,” says Jeff Carney, an assistant professor of landscape architecture who spearheaded the recent project. “The structure that the class designed and built was inexpensive, easy to construct, and flexible.”

Carney’s students started working on the project during the spring semester. His secondyear, graduate level construction class came up with a way to infuse the blacktop schoolyard with green – by designing a modular system of wooden planters that can be configured in multiple different ways and moved to a new site should the school have to move to a new building. The class designed the one-foot cube structure and actually constructed about 10 of the 45 boxes.

The project continued during a summer intersession course, which was dedicated to revising the design details and completing the construction of the planters. In early June, Carney and his students delivered the planters to the school. Since then, they have filled the planters with a variety of drought-resistant plants including succulents, herbs, and grasses. They also brought in large, livestock feeding troughs, which are now home to nascent magnolias, elms, drakes and Japanese maple trees.

“The intention is for the school to take the planters over in the fall and engage students in the planting and maintenance of the spaces,” says Carney. “Over time, the trees will eventually grow up and shade the structure making it a pleasant environment for students to watch a basketball game, eat their lunch or simply hang out and talk.” Carney says the service-learning project was rewarding both for him personally and for the students – especially because they didn’t just come up with a clever redesign for the schoolyard but they actually made it happen.

“The construction aspect of this project is what was really exciting,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of design projects with this school but to see it finally become a reality means a lot.”

For images of the project go to 539614/