Richard Roark on Design & Community
In 2009 OLIN worked with the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School in West Philadelphia on the creation of a garden space for the school and the community. Since completing the garden, OLIN volunteers have continued to work with the school and its students on seasonal maintenance to ensure the garden’s longevity. This relationship, which has been fostered by Partner Richard Roark, is part of the school’s Growing Minds program that was created to encourage positive change in the lives of young people through gardening and landscape design. During their most recent trip to the school, OLIN volunteers had a chance to work with the students again on the garden’s upkeep and, as Richard explains in the following interview, participate in the vital connection between landscape architecture and community involvement.
How did OLIN first get involved with the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School? What have we created with them?
In 2009 we received a call from Growing Minds Project Facilitator Kara Fisher, who said she was trying to help the kids of an underserved community get the opportunity to both improve their neglected neighborhood and get access to healthy nutritious foods. We both agreed that creating a garden at the school would be a wonderful way to get the students involved and help them make positive steps towards solving some of these issues. Our studio felt we couldn’t say no to such a great cause, so we found a way to contribute our time and expertise.
Over the past four years, how have you maintained the relationship with the school?
The truth is it hasn’t been easy. Budget cuts have made things much more difficult and unfortunately Kara is no longer with the school. But, we have been very lucky to find an eager partner in Maxx Kopelman, the 8th grade science teacher, who has been able to get the students excited about the project again. We also made connections with the Philadelphia Orchard Project, a non-profit dedicated to growing food locally in the community who has also been a great help in maintaining this effort.
As a landscape architect, what do you think the relationship is between design and community service?
Design and community service nourish each other. Every service project we get involved in invests us further into the community and gives us a broader perspective.
In the case of the Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School, I really feel like everyone who worked on establishing and maintaining this garden got something meaningful out of it. We worked with the kids to help them design their garden through models and drawing charrettes, we received plant donations and harvested excess materials from construction sites and then together, we built the garden. This kind of work is a design education in and of itself. Volunteering really is a positive and transformative experience for everyone involved.
How do you envision OLIN’s future role with the Growing Minds program?
The Growing Minds program is a creative template for volunteerism. It’s a way for OLIN’s studio to play a deeper role in the local community, encounter new voices, serve communities in need and experiment in our own practice. We’re planning to be at the school again this spring and hopefully in future seasons to come. There’s a lot of enthusiasm among our designers to get involved in other sites in Philadelphia and Los Angeles too!