Design That Makes A Difference: The Blackshear Schoolyard Project

In 2013, Page Design Architect Diana Su saw a plea for help in Austin's design community from the principal of a local elementary school. She put her name down as a volunteer, thinking it would be a straightforward effort. Today, Diana and a number of her Page colleagues are part of the fabric of Blackshear Elementary School that includes numerous community members. Their collective work has helped Blackshear develop and implement a master plan to the point the school is now furthering its arts mission with an outdoor performance venue. A citywide design charrette in conjunction with AIA Austin DesignVoice is being held this Saturday, October 21.

The Blackshear Schoolyard Stage Design Competition is intended to shape the physical and psychological expression of this performance venue that will be utilized by the Blackshear Fine Arts Academy and the community while expressing the Central East Austin neighborhood's sense of identity through intentional placemaking. Austin-based architects, landscape architects, engineers, designers, builders, and community members are invited to participate. To learn more or register to participate in the design charrette on Saturday, October 21, click here. The registration deadline is this Wednesday, October 18.

This past week, Diana and several of her colleagues held a mini-charrette for the Blackshear students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade to create an educational opportunity for the students to learn more about the importance of design and to make them feel included in the process since they represent a very important audience, the users of the project. She explained, "The goal of the student sessions was to provide students with a unique opportunity to practice design thinking and hone soft skills by working in teams within their existing curriculum and directly related to their immediate surroundings. They were a huge success.

"In the form of tangible deliverables, they yielded nine collaborative design solutions built to scale, a number of brilliant sketches and diagrams documenting process, and several larger “zoom-in” models capturing detailed components—all of which will be on display at the community design charrette. These pieces are vestiges of more powerful moments between design professionals and students who discussed how the sun moves across the schoolyard during the day and how to create shade, the amenities the schoolyard’s existing trees provide, and how to work from idea, to sketch, to build form."  

Blackshear is an elementary school located in the heart of the Central East Austin neighborhood that has made great strides academically in recent years. Today, it is the first public elementary Fine Arts Academy in AISD (Austin Independent School District) and is currently ranked as one of the highest performing academic elementary schools in the state. To learn more about how the Blackshear Schoolyard Project grew from a simple desire to improve the schoolyard to a community-wide effort through Diana's perspective, visit her website here

Thanks to Pagers Marsha Esponda Bernard, Shelby Blessing, Cherry Dong, Bill Huie, Julie Pizzo, Diane Rincon, Diana Su, Lorrie Tumlinson, Brett Wolfe and Leland Ulmer for their time and efforts on Blackshear Elementary's behalf.