American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Student Awards
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View of central plaza and steps toward raised playfield on dedication day. A variety of color and textures throughout the project add visual interest and invite play and exploration. (Photo by Daniel Winterbottom)
Typical housing, next to our project site. (Photo by Kari Stiles)
Work conditions for the garbage pickers in the Guatemala City garbage dump. (Photo by Justin Martin)
View of a portion of the Guatemala City garbage dump. (Photo by Justin Martin)
Curious children often looked in from the street on our progress. (Photo by Noriko Marshall)
Some Safe Passage participant children helped with parts of the project. (Photo by Vanessa Lee)
Our design process included a community meeting with mothers and children from the neighborhood, as well as meetings with teachers and staff from Safe Passage. (Photo by Jocelyn Freilinger)
All design and documentation graphics were done by hand; this sheet shows details drawn for the arbor and other sculptural elements. (Photo by Design/Build Studio)
The illustrative site plan shows the final design, which we arrived at through an iterative process that included individual and collaborative design development. (Photo by Design/Build Studio)
The site as it appeared when we arrived. (Photo by Justin Martin)
We transformed the bare site we arrived at into an inviting series of garden spaces. (Photo by Justin Martin)
A curving seat wall provides a place to wait or rest as parents, children, volunteers, and staff come and go from the pre-school. (Photo by Daniel Winterbottom)
Design drawing of the the custom metal trellis. It was fabricated by local craftsmen, adding a playful touch and providing a screen for the parking area. (Photo by Elizabeth Umbanhower)



Safe Passage Entry Garden
Amanda Bell, Student ASLA, Paul Chasan, Student ASLA, Terri Chiao, Student ASLA, Arielle Farina Clark, Student ASLA, Hilary Clark, Student ASLA, Jocelyn L. Freilinger, Student ASLA, Ryan Ihm, Student ASLA, Jeff Kurtz, Student ASLA, Vanessa Lee, Student ASLA, David Marshall, Student ASLA, Noriko Marshall, Student ASLA, Justin Martin, Student ASLA, Michael Michalek, Student ASLA, Nicole Mikesh, Student ASLA, and Elizabeth Umbanhowar, Student ASLA
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Faculty Advisor: Daniel Winterbottom, ASLA

"The intentions, process, and improvement potential for community life are fantastic. What an exemplary service learning project!"

— 2007 Student Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement
Children are often the silent victims of poverty. To address this tragedy, we worked with the NGO Safe Passage in the poorest neighborhood of Guatemala City. Using a collaborative, community-based process, we designed and built a series of healing garden spaces to serve children and families who survive by picking trash in the adjacent landfill. This project exemplifies the service ethic of landscape architecture and teaches skills to create environments that foster positive social and ecological change.

Project Narrative
In the summer of 2006, fifteen students traveled to Guatemala City to participate in an international service learning project as part of the University of Washington Landscape Architecture Design/Build Program. The team comprised primarily students in landscape architecture, as well as students in urban planning and architecture from four U.S. universities. Under the guidance of our professor and two teaching assistants, we spent six weeks designing and constructing three gardens, a plaza, shade arbor and seat walls for the main entry area to a new park and education site managed by the NGO Safe Passage for its client community. Our project serves as a therapeutic garden and a gateway to the park, and spatially links the two buildings on the site that house early childhood intervention and vocational programs.

The Entry Garden represents the first phase of a four-phase Master Plan for the site. An on-going service learning partnership between Safe Passage and our design/build program ensures that students will return in subsequent years to complete the design and construction of additional phases.

Client and Community Served
Safe Passage was founded in 1999 to provide a stable and caring environment in which to educate, nurture, and assist the poorest and most vulnerable children of families working in the Guatemala City garbage dump. The project site, located adjacent to the dump, is built on capped landfill. It is located in the heart of a community of squatters and poor residents who survive by picking through the incoming garbage from the nation’s capital, salvaging everything from food to materials that can be sold to recyclers. The few “public” open spaces that exist in this densely populated community are dangerous and unhealthy, sites of frequent and largely un-policed drug and gang activity, as well as copious medical, human and other waste.

Development and use rights for our project site were donated to Safe Passage, under whose management the land will serve as a refuge and respite for the community’s children and their families. The park will address a number of critical needs in terms of mental and physical health and development, and provide a safe and healthy environment for exploration, learning, and nature interactions. Many of the parents are of indigenous ancestry and were displaced from their rural homelands during Guatemala’s civil war. The park offers them the opportunity to experience and reconnect with the natural processes that were once a part of their daily lives, and inspire a sense of hope for their future and that of their children.

Landscape Design Principles
The Safe Passage Entry Garden demonstrates a number of sound landscape design principles which exemplify the strengths and contributions of our profession. To better understand their unique needs we conducted a community meeting with teachers and administrators from Safe Passage as well as with mothers and children who are clients of the organization. As a result of this process we identified common needs and desires for this space. The resulting responsive design included shaded resting areas, a place for children to explore and experience a sense of independence, and a larger open gathering area for socializing and events.

This project also demonstrates how landscape design can contribute to opportunities for learning, personal growth, and contact with nature in urban environments. Our pro bono design and construction work, and our program’s commitment to continued partnership with Safe Passage represent a strong model of service learning. This project also expresses a commitment to using landscape architecture to create better and healthier living environments, and in so doing helping to break the cycle of poverty.

Community Benefits
The Safe Passage Entry Garden benefits the community in a number of ways. Foremost among these, it provides a place to relax, gather, socialize, play, and explore in a safe and clean outdoor environment, an amenity which is desperately lacking in the community. Our design incorporates a large, open area in the main plaza, transitional stairs and paths leading to a grass playfield, as well as more intimate spaces under the shade arbor and the children’s sensory garden path.

The dense, diverse vegetation and inward focus of the various spaces create a remarkable place in the community and allow visitors respite and relief from the troubles of the surrounding streets and neighborhood – a desire explicitly voiced by participants in our community meetings. By creating a garden that demonstrates a professional level of quality and integrity in design and construction, we also sought to counter the sense among the community that they have been abandoned or even kept in poverty by those who are more fortunate and politically powerful.

The project possesses strong educational potential for the various visitors and users of the site. The vegetation in the surrounding neighborhood is sparse and relatively limited in diversity. Our plan included a thoughtful palette of native, agricultural and sensory tropical plants. Concurrent with their installation we witnessed the immediate appearance of hummingbirds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Within two weeks a songbird nested in one of the small shrubs. The significant benefits these opportunities offer the children in terms of learning about nature firsthand were immediately apparent. Our planning included the vocational opportunities the site would offer to learn about the maintenance and propagation of plants. We also had the opportunity to teach a number of local youth about our design and construction work during the project, some of whom assisted us at times as part of a special apprentice training program through Safe Passage.

Safe Passage is a dynamic and respected organization that draws hundreds of volunteers each year from around the world. These volunteers tour and work in the Safe Passage facilities (even during our work some volunteers assisted with construction), giving our project and the profession a high degree of visibility. We believe that this project actively embodies the ecological and social principles at the core of landscape design and effectively reflects its strong service ethic to a diverse international audience that regularly visits and uses the park.


We selected a broad range of native and ornamental tropical plants. (Photo by Winterbottom)
This image depicts how much the plants had grown in eight months after project completion. (Photo by Safe Passage)
The floral diversity added color and was an immediate attraction to wildlife, including hummingbirds and butterflies, adding to the site's educational and therapeutic potential. (Photo by Elizabeth Umbanhower)
The arbor provides ample shade on the site, even before the trees mature. (Photo by Safe Passage)
The space underneath the arbor serves as both a path, and an outdoor room where visitors can stop and relax on the swinging benches. (Photo by Daniel Winterbottom)
The Safe Passage Entry Garden has established a safe oasis amid the turmoil of the city. (Photo by Shannon Johnson)
The sensory garden area is a place for children to explore and learn. We selected plants for visual and tactile interest, designed grading to create a sense of enclosure, and created interactive "monkey bridge" and "sound wall" installations to stimulate play and experiential learning.(Photo by Terri Chiao)
The kid-sized "monkey bridge" in the children's sensory garden area. (Photo by Elizabeth Umbanhower)
Interactive sound wall in use by children. (Photo by Daniel Winterbottom)
The University of Washington Landscape Architecture Design/Build Program and Safe Passage (aka Camino Seguro) have formed an ongoing partnership, in which landscape architecture and other student participants will return in future years to complete additional phases of the project. (Photo by Shannon Johnson)
Dedication ceremony for the Safe Passage Entry Garden. (Photo by Vanessa Lee)
Safe Passage participant children get their first chance to see the Entry Garden and venture into their new pre-school facility. (Photo by Vanessa Lee)
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