Landscape architect students plan a visionary future for East Farm’s newest stakeholder

      By RUDI HEMPE,
      CELS News Editor

For several weeks earlier this semester a group of 19 students applied their creative juices to an intriguing project that involved turning a utilitarian hodgepodge into an aesthetically pleasing educational site.

The students were all juniors enrolled in a landscape architecture course taught by Richard E. Sheridan and their challenge was to come up with an attractive plan for a small section of East Farm for its newest stakeholder—the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association.

RINLA, an organization that represents the green industry in the state, has long been a supporter of URI, most notably helping create the URI Botanical Garden.

Up until last year the executive director of the organization, the late Kenneth Lagerquist, operated RINLA out of his home. When he died, RINLA officers started to search for a successor and selected Shannon Brawley, a URI landscape architecture alumna. Through Dr. Brian Maynard, it was decided to allow RINLA to establish its headquarters in a tiny building located near the greenhouses at East Farm.

The building, a former garage, was converted into a two-room office to house research staffers years ago and when Brawley moved in, RINLA members made some improvements but aesthetically the structure still needs repairs and has no restroom facilities. In short the structure and its surrounding areas—dirt roadways, three greenhouses and other horticultural facilities works well from a utilitarian aspect but certainly the collection is not a thing of beauty.

Enter a group of landscape architect students. Each semester, juniors and seniors in the landscape architecture program tackle some real-life projects, anywhere from whole villages to interior courtyards. The students take what elements already exist at a site, then apply their classroom teachings, add their creative ideas and imaginations and come up conceptualized plans. The process involves meetings with the stakeholders, site tours, measurements, presentations and the creation of a poster plan detailing their ideas.

The RINLA project, says Sheridan, was a natural, especially since the stakeholder—Shannon Brawley, was a URI alumna.

One of the first steps was for the students to meet with Brawley.

“We now have a public home,” says Brawley of RINLA, “and we want to have a place to meet and would like it to reflect who we are and also to have a learning landscape.”

Brawley also said ideally the location should have a memorial of sorts to all the nurserymen and their families who started RINLA and made it into what it is today. She said the site could also serve as a demonstration landscape utilizing ‘hard” materials such as walls and patios as well as botanical specimens, especially those reflective of Rhode Island. Constructed appropriately, the site could also serve as a venue for workshops and other educational endeavors, she said.

The students dug in.

The existing site, noted Braden Drypocher “has lots of disconnection. The idea was to start cohesion.” Drypocher is one of three students whose plans were chosen by Sheridan for inclusion in this article as being representative of many of the ideas that all the students developed.

“I wanted to show that RINLA is the epicenter of green technology in Rhode Island,” says Drypocher. Asked what the best feature of his plan is, Drypocher said he felt the RINLA Heritage Walk which he envisioned was a key. The walk in his plan parallels a small brook that cuts through the area. The brook, encased in a culvert for a couple hundred feet, would be uncovered in his plan. (Likewise other students also felt the brook should be freed from its culvert in their plans.)

Drypocher also envisioned a larger building for RINLA with a green roof, a parking area west of the brook, an ornamental horticulture garden with a glass arch and solar-powered

Dr.John Kirby

Checking out one student's vision for the redevelopment of the RINLA building area at East Farm with Professor Richard Sheridan are (L-R) Brianna O'Connor, Braden Drypocher and Kelley Woodacre.

lighting system, water storage areas, an experimental wetland planting pond, an amphitheater with an arch that can be adjusted according to the angle of the sun and an arch portal that opens to the nearby orchards.

Braden Drypocher's plan: PDF Download

Kelley Woodacre’s plan encourages pedestrian access to the site. The only road is one that winds down the hill around Building 75 to a parking area in front of the two Master Gardener greenhouses. She envisioned the greenhouses to have attached pergolas and planters set on gravel, extensive areas next to an expanded RINLA building and demonstration areas for research projects, examples of sustainability and learning. In addition she feels the whole site should be populated with trees native to Rhode Island, all of them labeled.

Kelley Woodacre’s plan: PDF Download

Brianna O’Connor’s plan proposes a much more extensive redesign for the site including a new RINLA headquarters will all sorts of solar and green features. The plan also relocates the main URI greenhouse (but does not make provision for the two existing URI Master Gardener greenhouses) provides for a huge gathering space in front of the RINLA building surrounded by gardens and featuring a “human sundial,” relocates parking to the north of the site near the blueberry research area and creates such features as a stream walk, a moss garden, a potting shed and cut flower garden, a bog garden, a vegetable garden and container gardens.

Brianna O’Connor’s plan:PDF Download

Sheridan says the students’ work could be a precursor for a much more complicated master plan for East Farm. The 79-acre property is occupied by a number of different programs including fisheries, geology, aquaculture, plant sciences, the Master Gardeners, a farmers’ market (in season), research plots, orchards and is the site of an annual Spring Festival.

What would be needed for the creation of such a master plan would be a facilitator, says Sheridan. He noted the RINLA project was not much different from other projects the students tackle—for the students doing such projects there is a “need of spontaneity, some flight of fantasy and a bit of serendipity.”

Sheridan said a lot of the success of this project can be credited to Brawley’s involvement. And there was another benefit they derived from her presence—“She was an excellent example for the students as to what they can be someday.”

Published: December 30, 2010