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High School Students Compete at ASLA’s First Minecraft Design Challenge

Winning design created by high school students from the Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH) in Miami, Florida. Photo: Park University.

On Saturday, June 12, ASLA piloted its first Minecraft Design Challenge for high school students. Minecraft is a video game that has attracted avid gamers around the world. Developed by Mojang, Minecraft requires players to design and break apart a variety of blocks in three-dimensional worlds to create living and community spaces and structures. Microsoft designed a Minecraft Education Edition in 2016, which is used now by school communities around the world. The United Nations also collaborated with Mojang and The Block by Block Foundation to engage communities globally in the design of public spaces.

Witness how a group of children in the Republic of Kosovo used Minecraft and collaborated with landscape architects and planners  to transform a neglected urban space into a vibrant neighborhood park. 

ASLA Minecraft Design Competition Pilot

ASLA has found Minecraft is a highly effective tool to introducing students to landscape architecture. The competition provided a unique opportunity for students to learn about ASLA’s mission areas, including green infrastructure, equity in design, climate resilience, transportation for all, water and stormwater, and parks and recreation. Most importantly, the competition positioned students to explore design solutions and a career in landscape architecture.

The pilot for ASLA’s Minecraft design competition included diverse students from Phelps School of Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (Washington, D.C.), DASH - Design and Architecture Senior High School (Miami, Florida) and The Urban Assembly School For Green Career (New York, New York).

Developed by the design team from Park University, the challenge invited teams of Minecraft experts to compete around the design and build of a local park.

Teams were tasked with:

  • Selecting a park to redesign in their local city
  • Identifying a problem with the current park design
  • Collaborating with their team members and ASLA mentors to brainstorm ideas and explore landscape architecture principles
  • Creating a plan to build their redesigned park and
  • Translating the redesigned park using Minecraft materials

After a week of orientations and planning meetings with ASLA mentors, student designers grabbed their pick axes and spent five hours building their dream designs using the java edition of Minecraft. Volunteer mentors included Megan Barnes, ASLA, Jeff Holzer, ASLA, and Jennifer Nitzky, ASLA. The competition ended with student presentations, focus group discussions, and a period of judging by Brad Bartell, ASLA and Nicole Plunkett, ASLA. 

Teams were evaluated on a ten-point scale based on the criteria below:

  • Does the proposed design solve the problem the team identified? 
  • Does the team consider community and environmental needs? 
  • Does the team make effective use of outdoor space? 
  • Does the design show creativity and have a clean look and feel? 
  • Is the design structurally sound? 
  • Has the team added any innovative or new features to help the design be successful?

Competition Winners

Students from DASH - Design and Architecture Senior High School (Miami, Florida) won first place for their redesign of Concord Park in Miami. Phelps School of Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (Washington, D.C.) won second place, and The Urban Assembly School For Green Career (New York, New York) won third place. Monetary awards were made to each school and gift cards were awarded to all participating students, sponsored by the ASLA Fund.

The DASH student team designed and built a variety of recreational spaces, including a soccer field, basketball courts, walking and biking paths, a cooling garden, grilling stations, a playground area with a tree house and nearby restrooms, and a parking lot. Dedicated lighting was also placed strategically throughout the park.

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Above: Google aerial shot of Concord Park. Below: DASH student redesign of Concord Park. | Photo: Park University

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Above: outdoor cooking stations. Below: fountain in cooling garden. | DASH student design. Photo: Park University


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Nighttime aerial view lit views of the redesigned Concord Park with dedicated lighting. | DASH student design. Photo: Park University

New Explorations in ASLA Career Discovery and Diversity

"I advocated for Minecraft above other gaming platforms, because there are clear and direct connections between the game and the work of landscape architecture. As we increase our national and local engagement with K-12 students and K-12 educator audiences, it is critical that we explore new tools and re-envision traditional learning strategies," said Lisa J. Jennings, ASLA manager of career discovery and diversity. "In doing so, we’ll gain new insights, perspectives, and approaches to outreach education while inching toward our shared goal to recruit students to the profession and further innovate the work of landscape architects. The recent Minecraft design competition is just the beginning of ASLA’s efforts to step outside the box to attract and retain the next generation of diverse landscape architects."

ASLA encourages members to attend ASLA’s first PreK-12 Summit Dream Big with Design, A Showcase of Landscape Architecture in September and discover ways chapters can build on the experience.

About the Park University Design Team

Susan Keim is an Assistant Professor in the Hauptmann School of Public Affairs at Park University. Her areas of expertise are citizen engagement, community development, leadership and followership, local government, public policy, and gamification. In addition, she facilitates community strategic planning, leadership, development, and team building for governments, businesses and nonprofits throughout the country. She is a Kansas Jayhawk through and through, receiving her Bachelor of Arts, Master of Public Administration, and PhD from the University of Kansas.

Zac Jarrard is a project manager in information technology services and a professional tutor for the Academic Success Center at Park University. He holds a Master of Science, a Master of Public Administration, and a Master of Business Administration from Park University. His research interests include gamification, innovation, and project management. Zac is a gamification, artificial intelligence, and innovation leader at Park University. He is also an Eagle Scout who aspires to make the world a better place for everyone.

Rashad Mahyaddinli is a graduate assistant in the Hauptmann School of Public Affairs at Park University. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Finance from Baku Engineering University in Azerbaijan and is pursuing a Master of Business Administration at Park University. He completed an internship as a teaching assistant of International Business Simulation course in Germany at University of Applied Sciences Koblenz. Rashad’s research interests are not only finance related topics but also using cutting-edge technology and gamification to deliver courses. His research in “Perspectives of non-oil economy in Azerbaijan” was granted by Pasha Bank in 2019.

Read more about Zac Jarrard and Dr. Susan Keim’s research on gamification and design 

"Building Cities and Fighting Monsters: Park University's Minecraft Journey", Minecraft: Education Edition, February 19, 2020. 

"Building Communities, Pirate Ships, and Raining Chickens: Park University’s Minecraft Camp Experience", Minecraft: Education Edition, September 4, 2020. 

Board Games, Zombies, and Minecraft: Gamification and Higher Education” by Susan Keim and Zac Jarrard in Current and Prospective Applications of Virtual Reality in Higher Education. 2021. Choi, Donna, Dailey-Hebert, Amber, and Estes, Judi Simmons, editors. IGI Global, Hershey, PA. 

Please direct questions about ASLA Career Discovery and Diversity to Lisa J. Jennings, Manager at discover@asla.org 

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