Outdoor Classroom, Partnership for the Sounds
Location: Scuppenong River, Columbia, North Carolina
Completion Date: 1996
Project Team: Frank Harmon and Ellen Cassilly
The Partnership for the Sounds, a private, non-profit organization that promotes environmental education, sustainable development, and ecotourism in the Albemarle-Pamlico region of eastern North Carolina, asked us to design an outdoor classroom for nature study on the edge of a black water swamp. The site was an abandoned sawdust pile next to the swamp. The client wanted the classroom to be as open to nature as possible, yet secure from vandalism.
Our Design Response
We perched the building on a small mound at the edge of the sawdust pile to allow views of sky, forest, and the swamp. To embrace the vernacular of the site, we used Atlantic white cedar for siding and southern yellow pine for structure. Both were cut and milled locally and brought to the site by hand. To satisfy the client’s need for openness, we designed a building and porch that would act as an indoor-outdoor laboratory. Sliding barn doors protect the big, screened windows on all four sides from bad weather and vandalism. Twelve-foot-tall ceilings and large roof overhangs provide shade and enhance natural ventilation. Ultimately, what could have been just another park structure became a delightful composition that nestles into its environment as if it has always been there.