In Guatemala, Building Gardens of Hope
Landscape architecture students design and build a garden
for the poorest of the poor.
By Daniel Winterbottom, ASLA
What does landscape architecture have to offer mothers
trying to free their children from a life of garbage picking in Guatemala City?
These families’ lives and relationships are fractured by constant stress, their
communities offer little support, and their environments are disconnected from
For more than a decade I have been trying to answer
questions like this one. As both a professional and a teacher with a service
learning ethic and therapeutic design goals, I’ve designed and built projects
for communities that are not benefiting from landscape architecture. War-ravaged
communities, orphanages, aids facilities, garbage dumps, and prisons (see
“Working in the Margins,” Landscape
Architecture, December) are the environments where I’ve taught and
practiced landscape architecture. These places and people have a profound need
for beneficial design. The University of Washington landscape architecture
design/build studio that I teach tries to meet this need. Our solutions use
low-tech, cost-effective, and sustainable materials and methods. This allows
our students to learn about local and culturally expressive materials and
Our academic design/build studio has partnered with more
than 14 nonprofit institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to
build projects for marginalized communities. As our completed projects become
widely known, contacts are made, opening intriguing opportunities, most
recently in Bali and Bosnia. We weigh engaging these new projects against
continuing partnerships with NGOs and communities we’ve served. We can effect greater
change by further developing these long-term relationships.
In 2004 a challenging project emerged when Malcolm Dole, a
graduate of our BLA program, inquired if our studio would be interested in
designing and building a park in Guatemala. He had been introduced to Safe
Passage, an NGO that helps the most impoverished children in Guatemala City
break the cycle of poverty through education. Safe Passage was expanding its
programs to a site close to its client families, who live near and work in the
city garbage dump.
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