UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 10 | Nov.
A Vision for a Community Schoolyard
UBC’s Community Studio helps transform a Vancouver
By Michelle Cook
Tom Beasley was playing ball with his son Alex in the yard
of his neighbourhood school when he first noticed it. Although
the day was beautiful and sunny, the grounds of Sir John Franklin
Elementary School were deserted.
“Looking around at the crushed gravel yard, the asphalt
parking lot, the old playground equipment, the pre-school
housed in a temporary structure and the chain link fence that
was keeping people out instead of inviting them in, I asked
myself, ‘would I be coming here if I were a kid, a senior,
an adult?’” says Beasley, a lawyer and parent
of two students at the school, Alex, 10, and Fred, eight.
That’s when Beasley had a vision.
“The images that came to my mind were of seniors strolling,
and people and students using a multi-purpose, engaging and
inspiring space,” says Beasley.
He organized a committee of parents, teachers, students
and community members, with the goal of better integrating
the school and school grounds, located in east Vancouver,
into the surrounding neighbourhood. But to transform their
vision into reality, the group needed help. They found it
at UBC in the form of a new student-led design outreach initiative
called Community Studio.
Involving more than 20 Landscape Architecture graduate (MLA)
students, Community Studio provides planning and design assistance
services to non-profit organizations that otherwise couldn’t
It was launched last year in response to numerous requests
for assistance that the MLA program was getting from non-profit
groups like the Franklin School committee. But its genesis
was the students’ desire to use their design and planning
training to make a difference in the community.
“It’s definitely part of the culture of our
program,” says David Hohenschau, a third-year MLA student
and the Studio’s founder. “Students want to work
in the community and gain hands-on experience. Our group creates
a cooperative context that supports both the students’
interests and the community’s initiatives.”
The initiative matches teams of students and mentoring professionals
with community groups to offer design services for community
projects such as schoolyards and community gardens. Services
include site-specific design workshops and concept design
For the Franklin School project, six members of Community
Studio armed with maps, sketchbooks and coloured pencils led
a group of two dozen community members aged 10 to 86 through
a design visioning workshop (called a charrette) in June 2004.
Out of a chorus of voices offering different ideas, opinions
and concerns, the students were able to capture the group’s
collective imagination about the space. Their dreams included
a central entrance plaza, bocce pits, a waterfall, a children’s
adventure island and more green space.
“The students were able to take our jumble of words
and vision statements and turn them into a proper working
document with terms of reference,” Beasley says. “They
gave us a focused product out of our ramblings.”
The Franklin School group now has “something concrete
to refer to and build community and funding support with,”
“There are professionals who do public process work.
Our work is for the organization with little or no funding
that’s just starting to address an issue they see in
“We can help them get as far as knowing what they
want, knowing the questions they need to ask and, hopefully,
using the drawings and energy the workshop produces to build
support, raise funds and hire a professional to complete the
Other initiatives the Studio undertook in its first year
include a community garden design workshop involving youth
gardeners from the Environmental Youth Alliance, and a public
art project at the UBC Farm.
Patrick Condon is the professor in the landscape architecture
program who initially put the Franklin School group in touch
with Studio members. He says there is “unlimited demand”
for the services the Studio offers.
“Community groups are increasingly struggling with
design issues in their neighoburhoods,” Condon says,
adding that the initiative is unique because it is the first
time MLA students have organized themselves outside their
required curriculum work.
Condon says faculty members discussed ways they could assist
and support the group, “but we felt it was better for
them and better all around that they had the opportunity to
fly with their own wings.”
The Environmental Youth Alliance project has been shortlisted
in an international student design competition taking place
in Scotland this week.
The UBC Community Studio’s concept drawings for the
Franklin School Project will be presented at the first Annual
Franklin Community Networking Fair taking place at the school
(250 S. Skeena St.) on Nov. 9 from 5:45 - 8:00 p.m.