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Architecture students build outdoor classroom for Houston school

Though the project is still in the modeling phase it is set to be complete by the end of the summer. | Courtesy of Patrick Peters / Design/Build

Seven Master of Architecture students are building an outdoor classroom for students at Frank Black Middle School in northwest Houston as part of an annual program from the Graduate Design/Build Studio, which gives students real world experience while also impacting the community.

This year’s project is allowing UH architecture students to create a nontraditional learning space for middle school students, and will serve as the first time most of the students have worked on an architecture project from beginning to finish.

“It is exciting to see each student’s ‘aha’ moment,” said Studio Director Patrick Peters. “When they see their work pre-fabricated and erected full scale, they realize what they were drawing and making models of.”

The project, funded by the Frank Black Middle School PTO, is going to be a sheltered, open-air classroom in the school’s arboretum with a raised deck and butterfly roof. It will also include features that incorporate other aspects of the schoolyard, such as the pond and plants that are already there, Peters said.

Master of Architecture student Abraham Tanvir said the design, rooted in with the characteristics of the school, will feature a 1,000-gallon water collection tank that can be used for educational purposes at Frank Black Middle School.

“The structure is actually going to harvest rainwater,” Tanvir said. “Students will be able to use the collected rainwater for their garden at a later time. This will allow them to see the cycle that water goes through.”

The graduate students took the environmental aspects of Houston into major consideration during the design process, Tanvir said.

“We accounted for the southeast winds to make sure this project is comfortable during the summer,” Tanvir said. “We also have the pitched roof design, which gives additional square footage of shade. We wanted to design in a way that would give a lot more space to the students while also providing a lot more shade than a traditional roof would.”

Tanvir said one of his personal favorite parts of this project is working with a group of graduate students who all come from different backgrounds.

“It will be cool to leave a physical project in the city of Houston that we were able to create from the beginning,” he said.

Graduate student Nora Segura, who helped design the outer graphics, said working with her peers and professionals has been one of the best parts of the experience.

“I am gaining excessive knowledge in the field of architecture that is not quite granted in any other program,” Segura said.

Segura said another gain from this project is having the hands-on experience of working with a real school.

“What we are building and designing is going to be put to use in a positive way for the education of young people,” she said.

Graduate students in this program put together a project similar to this one every spring semester. This year marks the program’s 30th year. Past projects by the Design/Build Studio include the main entrance for the Port of Houston Authority and an outdoor seating area at Lockhart Elementary School.

The group of graduate students are currently finishing up construction documents and attaining permits. The structure is expected to be complete by the end of the summer, just in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

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