Nearly every semester since the Gulf Coast DesignLab launched in 2012, Professor of Practice Coleman Coker and his students have worked closely with community partners along the Texas Gulf Coast to design and build environmental educational spaces that encourage people to learn about the unique ecology of the Gulf Coast.
Over the past couple of years, the advanced architecture studio has focused primarily on the area around Galveston, Texas; and this fall, the City of Galveston awarded Gulf Coast DesignLab the city’s first ever Planning & Design Awards for four projects completed by forty-five UTSOA students over the course of a two-and-a-half-year period.
“Each of the projects recognized by the City of Galveston touches on the core of what we do in this studio, which I call ‘Environmental Activism by Design,’” Coker said. “This studio is about so much more than just designing and building projects. Through our work, students deeply investigate the unique environment for each site and they connect with the landscape through hands-on service learning projects. Every aspect of this studio is intended to promote eco-literacy and environmental stewardship – not only within my students, but within the communities we serve, so people are better informed about and take ownership of caring for their surroundings.”
Three of the projects awarded by the City of Galveston were designed and built by students for the Galveston-based nonprofit Artist Boat, whose mission is to promote awareness about preserving coastal areas and the marine environment – specifically among inner-city middle and high school students. Each of the DesignLab projects are located within the 690-acre Coastal Heritage Preserve formed by the nonprofit, and align with the organization’s educational programming goals:
- STORE, completed in spring 2017, resulted in the creation of a new kayak and educational resources storage facility just yards from the water, which also doubles as a space for discussion and reflection;
- FRAME, completed in spring 2018, led to the creation of an outdoor classroom and shade structure, complete with custom-made tables, benches, shelves and storage spaces to facilitate varied educational and social activities; and
- OBSERVE, completed in fall 2018, resulted in The Oppenheimer Bird Observatory, a bird blind designed to inspire visitors to connect with nature in a way that instills a sense of responsibility to protect the diminishing habitat of native plants and animals in the area.
The fourth project recognized by the City of Galveston was INHABIT, a shade structure built and designed by DesignLab students in the summer of 2017 for Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Galveston Island State Park. The INHABIT project was Gulf Coast DesignLab’s fifth collaboration with Texas Parks & Wildlife since DesignLab’s inception, and is the subject of a short video created by Texas Parks and Wildlife that aired on Texas Public Television in 2018.
In addition to the City of Galveston’s Planning & Design Awards, projects completed in Gulf Coast DesignLab have been recognized by the Association of Collegiate Schools in Architecture, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and both the Texas and Fort Worth Chapters of the American Institute for Architects, among others.
For more information about the Gulf Coast DesignLab, including more detail about these award-winning projects, visit the Gulf Coast DesignLab website: http://www.gulfcoastdesignlab.org .