Principal Stephen Carroll on Designing Outdoor Learning Environments

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in,” said John Muir, father of America’s National Park Service and a founder of the Sierra Club. “We use that quote with user groups when designing outdoor space,” indicates Stephen Carroll, ASLA, LEED-AP, principal of EPTDESIGN, a California-based landscape and architecture firm. “There’s a desire, and we’ll continue to see that desire, to provide outdoor learning opportunities on college campuses.”

Carroll sees several reasons for this trend. First, both LEED and the push for sustainability have done a lot for landscape architecture in the last 10 years. “People are saying, ‘If we’re trying to condition indoor spaces in an energy-efficient manner and putting sensors on lighting in order to utilize natural light as much as possible, why don’t we just take it outdoors?’” he says. Second is cost. Facilities have become so expensive to build that, if there’s ever an opportunity to create an outdoor venue, administrators are more onboard with it than they were 10 to 15 years ago. And third is value added. “One client really talked about the value of outdoor learning for recruitment,” he says. “I think students are attracted to outdoor space, even feeling stuck indoors. There’s a sense of freedom when they can enjoy the outdoor environment. It’s a return on investment, and that’s a strong positive when designing outdoor spaces.”

The trend toward outdoor learning spaces is just gaining momentum. Carroll indicates that the next 10 to 15 years will show the development of far more. He also notes that outdoor learning spaces do not need to be strictly prescribed as “classrooms.” Learning can occur in many types of outdoors spaces. Following are things to consider when planning your project, along with success stories for a little inspiration, that come from two leading bicoastal firms, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects in New York and EPTDesign, as well as a college professor who uses an outdoor learning space.

Read the full article in Spaces4Learning.