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the green thread

a design/build case study for bishop’s peak elementary

Victoria Nizzoli Stannard 2014|California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

acknowledgments Thanks to my mom Regina and my dad Curt, my sisters Allie and Lizzy, and my Nana, for all of your support over the years, in and outside of architecture. You all have been the best and most supportive family, and I couldn’t have asked for better. Even when I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my future, you were all there to cheer me on in every decision that I made. I love you guys. Thanks to all my friends that have helped me figure out what I want to do up until this point. I’ve been blessed to be able to call so many people my friends, so thanks to: Melodi, Grant, Spencer, Sam, Sean, Amy, Paige, Ed & Kara, Casey, Collin, Jesse, Erica, Phil, Sven, Katelyn, Josh, Bosco, and Ryan. I’d also like to thank all of my past professors at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who have given me encouragement so far beyond what I expected. Even if you didn’t realize it at the time, you have each positively influenced my life and design process. So thank you: Michael Lucas, Troy Peters, Greg Wynn, Margot McDonald, and, in my last year, Sandy Stannard.

Copyright Victoria M. Nizzoli Š 2014 1025 E Foothill Blvd. San Luis Obispo, CA

table of contents 6









schematic preliminary design


preliminary design final design build phase

preface Originally in starting my thesis year, I thought that I would want to design my own school with its own curriculum, landscaping, building layout, and demographic. However, upon discovering this grant for Bishop’s Peak Elementary, I found a new motivation: to make something last. This project is the perfect opportunity to actually create something for an existing school and area that I’ve grown to love, all with the hope that these additions will be used for years to come.

challenge Today, our country’s next generation and their lives are critically threatened. The culprit this time around is not another Great Depression, or the next “Black Plague”; rather, it is by their abundance of food and lack of exercise. Childhood obesity has doubled in children and tripled in adolescents within the past 30 years, increasing the rate from 1980 by more than 10% in each category. The American Heart Association lists some terrifying statistics for 2013 regarding children’s health1:

As a result, children are now experiencing a range of health problems that previously had only been prevalent in adults (type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc.). This generation is actually the first one expected to die younger than their parents because of obesity. 6

And the main cause is their nutrition. Or rather lack thereof. So who is at fault for this? Of course children don’t always make wise choices in what they want to eat or snack on; and parents should absolutely be held responsible for providing adequate nutritional options. But it goes deeper than that: children spend a large amount of their time in school, sedentary at desks, indoors, and consuming half of all their meals in school, which provides them with little nutritional value, as well as preservatives and chemicals that their bodies don’t know how to process. In addition, elementary school-aged children in the U.S. receive 3.4 hours of food education per year, and it is actually not even compulsory in all schools2. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we teach our children about health, and we as architects should feel compelled to extend that into school design. 7

Grow Children are naturally shaped by their environment, and their school should be one of the key components to their adaptation. Engaging children in the classroom is important, but how we approach that needs to change. Creating a different type of classroom, one with nutrition, activity, and communication all integrated, can help foster discussion and creativity within their normal everyday curriculum. Equally important is how children can engage and learn outdoors. Here they can learn how to be active in fun ways, facts concerning the earth and sustainability, and, with the proper program, how to identify and cultivate healthy, edible options that they can then consume. By also integrating sustainable features into both these indoor and outdoor classrooms, our future generations can also be exposed to the notion of stewardship of our natural resources, and hopefully help contribute to not only their individual health, but to the health of their environment. 8


proposal This thesis proposes a case study for an opportunity to influence students as part of their play spaces and infrastructure at Bishop’s Peak/Teach Elementary School in San Luis Obispo, California. Thesis Professor Sandy Stannard at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo secured a grant with the organization of Seeds of Change, in which green spaces, gardening areas, and nutritional values are promoted as key ideas for the school. As a school garden and outdoor learning space has been created as part of an earlier grant at Bishop’s Peak, this grant will work with overall green campus improvements as the school deems necessary, but also with considerable focus on “greening up” the kindergarten playground area on campus. By creating another green, outdoor education space on the Bishop’s Peak campus, a “green thread” might take root, connecting children across grade levels, and potentially integrating them into the larger scale “green thread” of their town at an early age. The goal is to provide an outdoor education space that is interactive, playful, and educational for these younger students. 10


seeds of change Seeds of Change, maker of organically grown seeds and nutritious organic foods has chosen Bishop’s Peak/Teach School as one of the recipients of a “Share the Good” grant. Bishop’s Peak/Teach School has received a $10,000 grant from the organization Seeds of Change to support new community school gardens. “Seeds of Change was founded in 1989 by passionate gardeners with a vision to make organically grown seeds available to gardeners and farmers, while preserving countless heirloom seed varieties in danger of being lost to the “advances” of modern industrial agriculture. Share the Good is funded by the Seeds of Change “1% Fund,” the company’s commitment to donate one percent of net sales to community-based nutrition, gardening and farming programs.”5 12

abstract show



San Luis Obispo, CA Location: Central Coast of California 35°16’27” North, 120°39’47” West Established: 1772 Population: 45,000



We are living in a pivotal time right now when it comes to issues of sustainability and education. And San Luis Obispo has the potential to become a more prominent role model in this aspect. We live in an area where we can enjoy a beautiful climate, we can walk or bike almost anywhere, plastic bags and drive-thru restaurants are banned, and our farmer’s market is world famous and boasts a multitude of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers. 16

“The Happiest City in the USA”


San Luis Coastal Unified School District

City Public Schools:

Student-to-teacher ratio

San Luis Coastal Unified School District Public School Student Enrollment:




Bishop’s Peak/Teach Elementary School “As with any successful school, we enjoy, encourage and appreciate parent, family and community support and involvement. Whether you are considering enrolling your child in our school or are looking for a place to make a meaningful contribution, we invite you to contact and visit us. We are proud of our school and invite you to be a part of it.”


- Dan Block, Principal7



Bishop’s Peak/Teach School Garden

A past design/build thesis project of a previous group of Cal Poly thesis students, the Bishop’s Peak School Garden serves as an outdoor classroom and garden for the various grade levels on campus. In today’s green movement, more and more schools, teachers, and families are looking for ways to integrate sustainable lifestyles into their children’s lives each day, hopefully initiating lifelong habits. School gardens and outdoor learning spaces, like those at Bishop’s Peak/Teach School, are becoming more critical in this surge of educating the next generation about nutrition and sustainability. 23


Having visited the site, there is a stark contrast between the outdoor spaces available to older elementary students and those in the vicinity of kindergarten and younger elementary students. A small playground lies in a sea of black asphault with a storage shed in the middle, while the whole site backs up to a primarily dirt slope. A majority of the play space lies in direct sun and heat up fairly quickly. The nearest green space as well as the school garden is on the other side of campus.



Although the space on this site is limited, there is great potential here to create a playground that can encourage ecological investigation, even at the youngest of ages and in the simplest of terms. By creating another green, outdoor education space on the Bishop’s Peak campus, a “green thread” can take place, connecting children across grade levels, and even integrate them into the larger scale “green thread” of their town at an early age. The goal is to provide an outdoor education space that is comfortable, playful, and educational for these younger students. 27

site analysis

For this design/build piece, at the kindergarten area especially, the most relevant pieces of climate information revolve around shading. In an area with no green spaces and extremely limited shade, it becomes important to realize where breezes come from, what the extents of the shadows cast by other buildings are, and on what days is this need for shading especially felt.


Flora and Fauna

Wildlife Bees pose a threat to young children and populate the only naturally green area on the site

On Site Vines along the eastern fence of the site have grown over to create a soft, natural green wall, to be kept and incorporated into the design

Recommended Any and all plants added should be resistant to deer feeding on them

Low sprawling ground cover, drought tolerant, kid friendly Deciduous tree, doesn’t grow over 15’ high



chinese pistache 29



zoning school residential


sun studies MARCH 10 AM





november 11 am

A site with virtually no shade, Bishop’s Peak kindergarten lies in direct sunlight during the whole year. Other than the shallow shadows cast by the building itself and the slight shade in the upper left green corner, there is little protection from the sun for these small students. The addition of both shade trees and shading devices will be used to help mitigate the heat. 32


The green arrows represent the two main points of entry onto the kindergarten playground by foot. The larger green arrow indicates a gate on the site that is opened for service trucks to get in and out of the playground a few times a year, and represents a site constraint that we cannot block.


Program This site needs several program features to make the area as usable as possible, especially for students at such a young age. Current inpirations and suggestions at the moment include:

a larger shading structure [retractable/removable] seating and furniture [outdoor desks, workbenches, tables] planter areas [green walls, vertical gardens, planter boxes] water catchment systems/rainwater storage green space (outdoor classroom, small garden, quiet space, landscaping behind the playground)


precedents and inspiration


Part of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative to transform many of Boston’s schoolyards from barren asphalt lots into centers for recreation, learning and community life, Perkins Elementary School shows the possibility for the integration of green spaces amongst hardcourt usage. This schoolyard with outdoor classroom completed in 2008 by ICON Parks Design serves as one of Boston’s strongest examples for playground revitalization.

Perkins Elementary School11 36

Percy Priest Elementary School12 Percy Priest Elementary art teacher Tina Atkinson challenged her fourth-grade students to come up with designs for an outdoor classroom. Helping students implement their observations about class space, directing them to consider the types of places most conducive to studying and learning, Atkinson guided four classes full of kids through creation of concrete plans at their Nashville, TN elementary school.


The Children’s Garden13 Speaking of a “green thread”: the Children’s Garden, part of the larger set of Lafayette Gardens in Detroit, connects children to nature with whimsy and color. Using recycled juice concentrate containers and old playground equipment, these planters also carry fun themes, like “Petting Zoo“ for textures, and “Salad Bar” for taste. The garden manages to engage children with all five senses, while maintaining a playful environment in which they can learn about nature. 38

Islandwood School14 This 255-acre outdoor learning center on Bainbridge Island in Washington, IslandWood invites children and adults alike to discover a new way of seeing nature, themselves and one another. In doing so, each person comes to understand their ability to change the world for the better. “IslandWood educates young people about the science and systems of the environment and nurtures an appreciation for our natural world and our responsibility for preserving it. This is currently required in our public school systems and you just can’t ‘get it’ from a textbook like you can from sitting in the middle of the woods.”


Franklin Elementary School15

After the state of Florida required Franklin Park Elementary, a high-poverty school in Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast, to add an hour of reading time every day, the school decided to turn a barren courtyard into “a place to plant and nourish seeds of knowledge,� says local president Jamie Michael. Since the addition of the outdoor reading garden, the school has seen a 20% growth in reading test scores for the year of 2013. In addition to the extra reading time, the plantings already have contributed sensory learning experiences, including texture, smells and shapes for the younger students. 40

Edible Schoolyard16 The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California was inspired by restauranteur Alice Waters, who walked by daily past the delapidated asphault lot at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. Principal Neil Smith then contacted Alice because of her reputation, and invited her to plan a garden at the school. The Edible Schoolyard’s mission is to involve students in the farming of the garden, and preparing, serving, and eating food in order to encourage awareness and appreciation of the importance of nutrition, community, and stewardship of the land. In the process they learn about teamwork, the benefits of a healthy diet, and social interaction around freshly prepared food. This encourages children to think more about the food choices they make not only for their own health but also for the health of the environment. 41


Theme: “California Climates” As an educational as well as sustainable master plan, the idea of the various California climates found throughout our state work well in showing how pieces can relate but still be distinctly functional. In this model, children across all grades and ages can learn pieces appropriate to their grade level at each individual site. In the north-facing slope near the Kindergarten lies “the Desert,” as the area has no landscaping at present, and could use more of a low maintenance yet designed entrance. Towards the center of campus near the classrooms is the “Central Coast,” where green walls and rainwater storage will be directly dependent on our climate here in San Luis Obispo. Towards the back of campus at the preexisting outdoor classroom and garden is where the “Central Valley,” an area known for its agriculture, would be placed, and opportunites for additional food preparation and wash tables would be added in. And finally, as the playground and most of the school lacks any shade at all, the “Mountains” of California help provide a shady and cool area to relax under.



Theme: “Path of Discovery” As a school with different grade levels and integration, this masterplan focuses on discovering different aspects of sustainability as one wanders through campus and can learn a different topic at each location. Starting at the kindergarten, “Native Plants” help children see what is actually native to both California as well as San Luis Obispo, and how thse basic plants grow. Another aspect of San Luis Obispo, its yearly rain, helps add significance to the “Rain Harvest” area on the campus, teaching children how to harvest rain and then reuse it efficiently. Towards the pre-existing sustainable classroom, “Food Science” is located in order to teach children more on overall nutrition and healthy habits. At the playground, the area for “Solar Science” still relies heavily on shading the area for the children using the play space, but has more interstitiary spaces to teach about heating, cooling, ventilation, and solar gain. And finally, as the campus has these set of new yet unutilized compost piles towards the front, the creation of an “Earth Science” center helps bring attention back to the area and what can happen through the soil and power of decomposition. 45


Theme: “THE Green Thread” As a campus with already one sustainable, green space, the next logical step in the campus’s evolution would be completing a green thread throughout the campus. This thread of sustainable implements on campus also helps create a lifecycle, encouraging education on these natural phases. Starting at the kindergarten, where children first come into contact with how things grow, the basic building blocks of life, and their beginnings, lies “Roots.” As they grow older and move through the school, learning more about life, students progress into “Growth”, which focuses on the implementation of green walls to see how things grow in real time. As these children continue growing and begin socializing and spending time with friends and classsmates, the “Branch Out” area exists as an intermediary area between the school buildings and the playground. Now that children are able to see their own development at work, they reach the area to “Harvest” their own knowledge as well as the literal fruits of their labor in an area with added food preparation and wash stations. And finally, at the end of the cycle lies “Reuse”, where all the pieces from the end of their green loop return to the ground in order to help foster a new generation of growth. 47


Unraveling the Green Thread This master plan for the campus can easily accomadate the other two sets of alterations, while most clearly presenting the notion of a “green thread� throughout the entire campus, hence its name. Starting from kindergarten and growing through each grade, integrated through both play and curriculum, these aspects of sustainability create a series of connections and nodes to which connect the processes of green learning. 49

delapidated sandbox natural green wall/corner operable fence snack area (1 table) unused planter space chainlink fence (boundary)

The kindergarten site’s current set of conditions, as mentioned by both the teachers and parents, are fairly poor at the moment. All the asphalt could use resurfacing to make it both cleaner and safer. Surrounding the site, are chain link fences, and in one particular area that lies adjacent to our area, there is an operable fence that must remain unblocked in case of use by the school district. Two fixed structures also remain on the site, such as the storage shed and the jungle gym area. The sandbox on site, as made by parents, could use more careful design, and placement in the future, to remove it from the direct sun.

Kindergarten: Current Site Conditions 50




native plants

exhibition/ educational area water catchment This first design option looks at revitalizing the naturally green corner on the site, as means of creating both a soft, green space for students, but also a bit of structure to the area to be used as a teaching space. This area receives partial shading and has the space to create an outdoor classroom that is then surrounded by a woodchip, planter box area, and a few smaller trees for additional shading. For the well shaded green corner, a lightweight and deployable shading piece can be added, as the new quiet space underneath can be landscaped to enhance these qualities. Creating this softer, quieter green space with planter seating can help give kids a small oasis on the playground.

Kindergarten Option 1 52



native plants

vertical garden

woodchips/ sandbox water catchment

The second iteration of the kindergarten area repurposes the area next to the jungle gym as a new sandbox; however this time it plays more with shapes that can be utilized better by the children in day to day activities. The change between grassy seating areas, to woodchip planter areas, and to the sandbox playful areas helps create a diverse environment all in one location. In addition, keeping the shape less defined and more organic allows for children to ride tricycles and run around on the surrounding asphault. Towards the front entrance to the kindergarten, there now stands a green seating area with tables, shading, and grass that the teachers can more easily take their kids to for snack each day.

Kindergarten Option 2 54



exhibition/ educational area

shaded play area

woodchips/ sandbox water catchment This third option for the kindergarten area looks at the integration of more green space on the asphault lot. By repurposing the asphault area adjacent to the jungle gym as a grass and wood chip space, the opportunity comes in to add more seating for snack time, landscaping, shading, and planter boxes. In addition, this configuration still leaves enough asphault space for tricycle use. Along the back fence of the site, individual work stations for the children can be iterated to hang off of the chain link fence. These pieces can range from hanging planter boxes to chalk board areas for an artistic canvas, and give children a choice in what they want out of their play time.

Kindergarten Option 3 56


prototype This prototype for what an outdoor work station for children might look like works with having multi-purpose pieces to provide for simultaneous use between multiple children. The idea of being able to express oneself artistically but also physically in the act of growing something works for multiple personality types among children and their preferences. Made from a repurposed wood palette, some planter boxes, and a blackboard, this project is simple, functional, and sustainable.


design charettes One of the greatest benefits of being able to do this project here in San Luis Obispo for an actual community lies in their feedback and participation. Parents, teachers, faculty, and school district officials have all participated in design charettes regarding our progress for future and current masterplans, and have given some truly helpful and practical feedback.


the green corner The only area on the site with both shade and natural greenery, this mostly unused and neglected area holds promise for a quiet, green corner to take place. This corner will be the focus of thesis work for this year at Bishop’s Peak kindergarten playground. 60

jungle gym

sandbox storage shed

green corner kindergarten classroom

parking lot

seating construction study


construction study 62

section show 63

The purpose of this construction study and render vignette is to explore the technology of the umbrella as well as possible locations for shading devices for the playground. This mockup really taught me the intricacies of a machine that we really take for granted, but that offers us a service that we require in multiple climates. Based off of this study, we will continue to look into collapsible, retractable and deployable shading options for the school that are still fun to look at and use.

construction study 64



In starting with various renditions of how to “green up� the corner, we went from a plantbased style to a more artistic interpretation of the area. Sandy encouraged me to look into both black top paints as well as mosaics, as teachers had expressed an interest in doing something related to a mural with their classes. These applications would be longer-lasting, and require less irrigation when compared to adding plants. This new set of renditions now address these issues, while still bringing color and life to the site.


This first rendition of the site looks at the simplest of the new possiblities. Using brightly colored masonry paint, we can still create a green thread artistically throughout the blacktop area by depicting plantlife, different ecosystems, or a plant’s lifecycle. This paint is already used on other areas of the blacktop, so it would be school district approved, and requires less maintenance than a fully excavated and organic corner. Also leaving the blacktop available allows for children to still use their tricycles throughout the space, and does not interfere with day-to-day use.



option a study model


The green corner hopes to become a more central piece to the playground that can offer its own unique attribution to the site. Creating a radiating pattern from the center of the green corner helps to define this space as a place that gathering happens and social activities can center around. Option B also explores a new medium for creating growth on the site in regards to a mosaic that can radiate out from the center of the green corner, and in time, spread outward.



This second design iteration works with the idea of a radial organization around life, as expressed by the use of a mosaic sun centered around a large shading tree in the corner. By giving the kids a sense of encircling the tree, this organic nature becomes the center of interaction, and can be a focal point of activities, both social and academic. This idea incorporates both mosaic tiles as well as decomposed granite to create more of a natural and soft feel to the site, but still maintaining control over its materials.



option b study model


Finalized Program - designated seating area for activities and snack - shade throughout site via district-approved trees and collapsible/ retractable shading devices - seating, shading, and work tables throughout the green corner for outdoor activities


MOSAIC, masonry paint, and DG

My final design is so far not only my favorite but also appears to be, based on feedback, the favorite of several parents at Bishop’s Peak. Taking into account the design approaches of both A and B, Option C looks at using both masonry paint as well as a mosaic pattern together to really extend throughout the site. In this rendition, materials like decomposed granite and mosaic tiles start in the corner and start spreading out, much like the vines across the wall. As the piece grows, the materials evolve from the decomposed granite and wooden seating, to the mosaic tiles, and into painted designs that can continue on in the future.



option c study model


materiality precedents Working with mosaic tiles gives us the ability to incorporate our own design ideas while allowing the students to contribute to the creation of the individual mural pieces. Laying them out can involve some removal of the asphault, with the intention of then resurfacing it and making it cleaner and more even. The use of masonry paint on the site also allows us the ability to make the corner beautiful and colorful without having to resort to excavation of the asphault on site. Combining these two in any proportion, the site can become more than a passive asphault corner, but start to transform into a quieter and greener corner.



Estefany Franco and I attended a mosaic workshop at Marshall Elementary School in San Francisco, put on with the help of local tile artist Jo Bauen. Jo has done various tile installations, including patios, wall installations, and furniture pieces. Her insight into the practice as well as the hands-on expertise helped us to understand what direction the mosaic at Bishop’s Peak might head in, and how to accomplish it beautifully.


mosaic workshop

with jo bauen

steps to an outdoor ground mosaic 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8)

excavate asphault area of desired mosaic put down 4” concrete slab leave 1/4” space for mosaic tiles and 3/8” for sealant for installation to lie flush with surrounding asphalt cover slab with thin set of desired mosaic area apply mosaic tiles let sit for 2-3 days add grout between tiles once set, apply sealant to lie flush with surrounding asphalt


1. “Understanding Childhood Obesity.” American Heart Association, 2010. Web. 27 Sept.2013. downloadable/ucm_304175.pdf 2. “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Jamie Oliver. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. 3. “ChildrenNatureAndYou-Quotes.” ChildrenNatureAndYou-Quotes. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. 4. Holecko, Catherine. “First Lady Michelle Obama: Quotes on Child Obesity and Health.” Family Fitness. N.p., 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. 5. Stanley, Sarah. “Seeds of Change(R) Awards $175,000 in Share the Good Grants to Help Community Gardens and Farms Grow.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 4 June 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2013. 6. San Luis Coastal Unified School District. SLCUSD Board Policy. 2010. Last Updated 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 7. “Our Schools: About Bishop’s Peak Elementary”. San Luis Coastal Unified School District. SLCUSD Board Policy. 2010. Last Updated 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 8. Bishop’s Peak Elementary School. San Luis Coastal Unified School District. 2005. Last Updated 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 9. “Garden Annex: Outdoor Learning Space”.

10. Division of the State Architect. Department of General Services. State of California. 2013. Web. 11. Perkins Elementary School. Boston Schoolyard Initiative. 2013. Web. 12. Percy Priest Elementary School Outdoor Classroom. “Outdoor classroom realized at Percy Priest Elementary”. WKRN-TV Nashville News, Channel 2. Web. 13. The Children’s Garden. Hagenbuch, Beth. “The Children’s Garden at Lafayette Greens”. 16 September 2012. Web. lafayette-greens-3/ 14. Islandwood School 15. Franklin Elementary School. Florida Education Association. “Support Professionals in Lee County Convert Outdoor Space to Reading Classroom”. 31 May 2013. Web. reading-classroom 16. Edible Schoolyard Growing a Greener World. “The Edible Schoolyard, Berkeley, CA”. 30 June 2010.

Cover: Back Cover: Leaf Images: Courtesy of Google Image Search :official&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=mDekUp_rCszZoATu04DwBQ&ved=0CAkQ_ AUoAQ&biw=752&bih=644#imgdii=_ Page 7: Page 8: 10 Tips on Gardening with Kids. 9 February 2013. Web. Page 10: Page 11: Page 12: Luis_Obispo_San_Luis_ Obispo_County_California.html#27089112 The Tribune. Web. Page 14: Photo Credit: Josef Kasparovich

Page 17: “Encontrando La Tierra”. Andy Olson. html. Bishops Peak/Teach School Garden. Page 24:,_California Maps and Aerials Courtesy of Google Maps and Google Earth Page 28: Page 32: Shishi Odoshi. “Running on Water, Walking on Air”. Page 33: Inhabitat. “CISTA: Modern Rainwater Harvesting Made Beautiful”. designs-rainwater-harvesting-vertical- garden.html rainwater-tanks-make-water-storage-glow.html Page 45:

The Green Thread  
The Green Thread