“Toolboxes for Learning” is a design/build storage unit for a Boston K-8 bilingual public school’s urban schoolyard. It is composed of various rolling “toolboxes,” filled with tools that encourage students to observe and test materials in the schoolyard to learn sustainable principles. It is an attempt to instill a real connection with the natural environment and foster a lasting appreciation for the urban landscape.
“Toolboxes for Learning” Narrative
The Rafael Hernandez School of Roxbury, Massachusetts in collaboration with the Boston Schoolyard Initiative and Rhode Island School of Design’s InsideOut Studio, has developed a site-specific, interactive, outdoor classroom that addresses the educational demands of a bilingual, k indergarten through 8th grade curriculum. An interdisciplinary team of design students was established in the fall of 2006 to work with the Rafael Hernandez community to design storage for the outdoor classroom. The program evolved into the “Toolboxes for Learning.”
One furniture designer, one industrial designer, and one landscape architect collaborated to design and build “Toolboxes for Learning. ” Each member of the student team brought a unique skill-set to the table to solve this design problem. The f urniture student brought an understanding of adult and child proportions to build pieces that maintain appropriate scale a nd design intent. The i ndustrial design student brought a logic of organization for use and function along with an understanding of material potential and metal working skills. The l andscape architecture student brought a connection to site and design skills resulting in a celebration of water and planted form. All three designers collaborated on drawings that communicated the project design to the public school community. This work led to design approval and the creation of document sets to aid fabrication. Collaboration among the designers from three academic departments on a single design problem fostered a strong project that blur s the traditional boundaries of each discipline.
Furniture design and industrial design are fields that may appear removed from landscape architecture. H owever, through this project, valuable lessons transcended each field. In f urniture design the finished and fabricated object is critical w here in landscape architecture process, growth and change are often of equal importance to a design’s success. Furniture’s particularities for details such as finishes and the material pallet were important in fulfilling the design intent of the toolboxes. Both the furniture and industrial designer brought fabrication skills to the project, teaching the landscape architecture student the realities of bringing a drawing to life--valuable skills that can aid construction administration and communication in the professional world. The industrial designer’s outlook toward the future was important in thinking about the children and teachers as users and considering fabrication options for reproduction at other schools. The industrial designer compartmentalized “tools” into various categories including tools for observation, data collection and messy work providing spatial relationships that connect the user to each task. Learning about the sustainability of materials such as woods, metals, paints, and other finishes was important to the design team and the teachers and students using the toolboxes. Teaching children about the environmental impact of material choices was a goal of the toolbox design. Developing methods to translate t hese skills are important for all designers but are particularly relevant for landscape architects as material choices are used as a means to fulfill the field’s role in environmental stewardship.
“Toolboxes for Learning” grasps the power of teaching urban, bilingual students science and math through testing the environment and making small scale connections to larger ideas such as global climate concerns, organic farming, and alternative energy sources. When brought to the small scale of an interactive tool shed, students can learn about environmental issues first-hand and feel empowered to act as individuals.
“Toolboxes for Learning” Collaborative Team
The industrial designer is an undergraduate student responsible for maintaining a logic of toolbox use while helping the function of the designed elements meet curriculum needs. His expertise i n the use of green materials as learning tools was important to the project development and his metal working skills were necessary during the construction phase.
The furniture designer is a graduate student responsible for coordination of the design through material choices and stressing the importance of scale of the toolboxes to meet that of the project’s young clients. In addition, he contributed fabrication knowledge during the project’s construction phase.
The landscape architect is a graduate student responsible for siting the toolbox structure as well as developing drawing sets for design proposals to public school officials, drawing sets used for constructing the project, and site preparation drawings for concrete pouring. Her work included designs for roof components that use rainwater and plants as learning tools, bringing green roof design principles physically down to a child’s level.