In mid January 2015, students from the Northfield High School S.T.A.R. program met with students from the School of Architecture + Art’s 802-Lab to discuss the design and construction of an outdoor classroom in the 135-acre woodland adjacent to the Garvey Hill Soccer Field in Northfield. The STAR program (Students Taking Alternative Routes) offers an academic setting for Northfield High School students looking for a more experiential classroom setting. Luke Foley and Judy Knapp, directors of the STAR Program, seek to establish relevance and purpose in their students’ education by introducing them to fundamental bush-craft skills like making fire through friction, learning how to identify wild edibles, and how to build primitive shelters from woodland debris.
The proposed outdoor classroom, which affectionately became named ‘The Dutch Angle’, will become the departure point for a future network of trails in the Northfield High School forest. The building, which is approximately twenty-four feet square by eighteen feet tall at it’s highest, uses a sophisticated cable and turnbuckle-tensioned king-post beam to span the entire twenty-four feet length. The superstructure was entirely pre-fabricated on the Norwich campus at the Disney Field design/build facility, then trucked to the Garvey Hill Soccer Field, where it was unloaded and hand-carried across the soccer field and into the forest. It’s estimated that together the students from Norwich and the STAR program carried about four tons of material and tools into the woods to construct the Dutch Angle Classroom.
Construction on the Dutch Angle began in early March. What was the first order of business for the architecture students? Bring snow shovels to the site and dig down through 3 feet of snow to find the concrete foundation piers cast in place by Construction Management students in Professor Edwin Schmeckpeper’s Structures class back in November of 2014. Throughout the remainder of winter, and into spring, the architecture students worked through what seemed like endless snow, freezing rain, and with the onset of spring, mud.
Associate Professor of Architecture Matthew Lutz, who led the School of Architecture and Art’s 802-Lab during the design and construction process commented that “The students determination to complete the project was undeniable – they worked like a crew that had been together for years.” Lutz continues, “It’s precisely design / build projects like this one that allow our students the opportunity to translate ideas into buildings. They learn how to think with their hands.”
Luke Foley, 2014 Vermont Teacher of the Year, said “We are so excited about the outdoor classroom and our continued collaboration with Norwich University. Our students had a rich and engaging experience, and have taken a lot of pride in the finished product. Professor Lutz and his team of students were fantastic to work with. We were really impressed with the professionalism and passion for the project! ”
Rising senior Architecture student Shaili Patel reflects on her experience of building the Dutch Angle Classroom….“Rough hands, covered in ridges and valleys with small mountains, show pride in making. They’re the hands of a maker. Hands filled with moved skin and calluses show the wear and tear of holding a hammer, driving a nail, and moving heavy pieces of rough sawn wood. These scars on the hands show the effort to create a masterpiece, these are the hands I am envious of.
That is what this studio is; it’s not about knowing how to actually build or having those skills; though if you do, that’s great; it is about adapting to the situation, it is about the willingness to learn, it is about learning to be confident in your ability to power through any situation; it is about achieving the pride one gets when making. Though I have no experience in building, I am learning what it takes to have valleys and ridges on my hands; learning what it means to build; learning what it means to become a maker.”