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Kington Plaza and Christiansen Outdoor Learning Spaces

Grinnell College
Grinnell has embraced sustainability enhancements as a key part of the campus landscape strategy and an important outcome tied to the institutional commitment to environmental stewardship.
Grinnell College Plaza And Outdoor Learning Spaces Outdoor Classroom With Chalkboard
Grinnell, IA
3 acres

The Kington Plaza and Christiansen Outdoor Learning Spaces landscape is a 3-acre quadrangle situated at the heart of the Grinnell College campus. Designed to embody the spirit of academic freedom, a sequence of open-air classrooms developed in collaboration with students and professors extends the campus learning environment, drawing energy from the nearby academic building. The design of the quadrangle recognizes the equal importance of function, community, and artistry. Each element provides layers of student life activity: classrooms, social coves, hammocks, and large, custom-designed boomerang benches are intended for social gatherings and also double as platforms for free speech and protest. The project aligns with the overarching goals of the landscape master plan, also completed by Ayers Saint Gross. The team conceptualized the landscape to enhance the relationships between physical space, belonging, and student success. The team applied universal design principles to ensure new spaces are accessible to all. The team incorporated green infrastructure, including some of the first bioswales on campus. (Top image courtesy of Grinnell College and Justin Hayworth)

Outdoor Learning Environments

The four outdoor learning nodes accommodate a range of class sizes and teaching styles with fixed and moveable furniture. The three double-sided chalkboards were created with slate salvaged from an old academic building that a Grinnell team member had kept in storage. The design team and fabricator who constructed the campus signage designed the chalkboards with the same finishes to establish a cohesive material palette across campus. The curved limestone seating is equipped with power outlets, and the quad has access to campus Wi-Fi. Dynamic lighting provides low levels for night-time use.

Identity and Sense of Place

Grinnell is located in Iowa’s tallgrass prairie region, an area defined by grasslands and expansive open spaces. The team embraced the prairie context, shifting from predominantly turf-grass manicured lawns to a prairie-inspired ground plane with dominant uses of switchgrass, prairie drop seed, and blue grama grass. Coneflower, oxeye sunflower, sumac, and Aspen trees create seasonal diversity and spatial definition. The team drew inspiration from Grinnell landmarks like the Merchants National Bank, a Midwestern jewel-box bank designed by architect Louis Sullivan. The building’s proportions and details informed the design of the warm, glowing lanterns atop the new gateways.



SCUP Excellence in Landscape Architecture for General Design Award


AIA DC Award in Architecture
Maryland ASLA Professional Award for Institutional Design
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