By Daniel J Vaccaro
Denver Botanic Gardens needed a new weather station. The current incarnation was functional, but not in an ideal location to collect weather data to inform smart watering practices. And for an organization revered for its aesthetic pleasures and educational features, mere functionality was not good enough.
“It’s a little too technical-looking to fit with the style of the gardens,” said Devin Riles, associate director of landscape operations. “We want a structure that draws people in, gets them thinking, placed in an area that gives us the information we need to maintain the health of our plants.”
To whom does one turn to design a functional, beautiful and educational weather station?
Who else? Students from the Department of Industrial Design at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“I was excited by the possibility of designing for such a prominent location,” said second-year student Ben Plucker. “But the size and scope of the project were also a little daunting.”
In this case, the weather station needed to be 10 feet tall and integrated into a specific spot in the Children’s Garden. Other design criteria included being aesthetically pleasing, having an educational component and accommodating the necessary technical applications.
Plucker and his classmates in Beginning Industrial Design Studio started their work with a site visit. They measured the space and took notes on the surrounding landscape.
Student teams presented initial sketches and design concepts during February and solicited feedback from their classmates and professor and leaders at Denver Botanic Gardens. Refinements followed.
“This project goes beyond the theoretical,” said student Tyler Hallman. “We are working for a real client, getting comments from the CEO and other employees. It’s a great way to learn.”
Hallman said designing for the real world made him more conscious of form, place, cost and materials. His team based its design on an owl – a bird that would be recognizable to visitors. Children could walk beneath what the team envisions as an elevated functional sculpture.
Beyond standard design concerns, the project pushed students to consider a critical state issue: water. After all, the weather station’s data impact water distribution for flora in 500 irrigation zones, a fact that students needed to account for in their design.
And that wasn’t the only role water played in the project. A recent partnership between MSU Denver’s One World One Water Center and Denver Botanic Gardens provided the initial connection between class and gardens staff.
Students present their final concepts for the weather station project March 27, and a winner will be selected by Botanic Gardens leadership by the end of the month. The winning design could be installed in the gardens in 2019.
Professor David Klein said the project reflects the hands-on learning experiences available to students at MSU Denver.
“Not only are students working in the same way they will in the field, but they are building their portfolios,” he said. “Imagine if you can go to an employer and say, ‘Here’s a sculpture I designed for the Denver Botanic Gardens.’ That’s something that will really set you apart.”
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