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Designing women draw up new plans for Rock Creek’s Building 7 courtyard

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The sculptures in the courtyard at Rock Creek's Building 7 will moved temporarily this summer while the construction on the new design is completed. Photo by Katherine Miller

The sculptures in the courtyard at Rock Creek’s Building 7 will be temporarily moved this summer while the construction on the new design is completed. Photo by Katherine Miller

One could say that it’s like wearing an old pair of Keds with a Dior dress. By any measure, PCC Rock Creek’s remodeled Building 7 is stunning. With its clean, sharp lines and weave-patterned glass facade, the east side of the structure serves as an inviting anchor to the campus quad.  But in comparison, the west side’s tired and unkempt courtyard entrance doesn’t do the building’s new addition justice.

This summer, that will change when the courtyard gets a major overhaul using a new design created by three students in the campus’ Landscape Design Process class.

The project is serving as a living lab for 13 second-year students in the class, taught by Landscape Technology instructor Marilyn Alexander.

The courtyard’s facelift is being funded in part by the bond measure approved by voters in 2008. PCC is investing more than $63,000 million to build, renovate and upgrade the Rock Creek Campus.

The courtyard was originally landscaped with grass and trees during the previous bond in 2002 using a design done by first-year landscape students. Since then, time and several alterations have taken their toll, said Alexander.

“Over the years, trees had grown, trees were cut down, various plants were moved around, and it kind of lost the integrity of the design. So it was time to do something different,” she said.

Alexander’s plan was to divide the students into four groups according to their strengths.

“I tried to get each group with a good skill set so they could pull together and get four good designs. I’ve had these students before in the previous quarter, so I looked at the students and said, ‘OK, who’s good at organization, who’s good at plant selection, who’s good at design.’ And I tried to make sure that each group had a balance of those three things.”

The students then came up with a plan, complete with plant lists and an explanation of the intent of their design.

“There are a lot of challenges in that courtyard,” said Alexander. “We’ve got an irrigation system that was designed for lawn, but it’s watering plants. … Drainage grates had to be maintained or only moved slightly. Some existing trees had to be kept in place. They had to work with soil that’s pretty wet with low drainage. They had to work with sun and shade.”

The new design also needed to incorporate the courtyard’s existing sculptures, and include a 10-foot wide concrete pathway to allow for equipment to be used for maintenance of the courtyard.

Finally, Alexander said the students had to select a variety of plants that included not just the usual “work horses” of the landscape world, but also some less common, more interesting options.

All four groups presented their completed designs to a committee that included: Cheryl Scott, dean of instruction; David Sandrock, Landscape Technology department chair; Zahava Jones, bond project manager for Rock Creek Campus; Janis Nichols, community relations manager for Rock Creek Campus; and others from the campus community.

According to Alexander, the groups used different approaches to make their presentations, including computer-assisted design, Power Point, photos, and traditional sketches. The committee ultimately chose the design done by Elizabeth Hodgson, Phillipa Peach and Megan Valle, in part because theirs was a good aesthetic fit for the new construction at Building 7.

Courtyard“What we really focus on is form composition, the shapes of the hardscape and the bed areas,” said Alexander. “The hardscape structures that they put in the plan complimented the building because they were rectangular, and they were not complicated to put together.”

“Theirs was simple (in conceptual form), but it must have spoken to the committee because (the members) all gravitated toward that design. The other designs were a little more complicated,” she said.

Alexander explained that although most landscape designs go through extensive revisions, she was surprised that Rock Creeks’ grounds committee  didn’t make many changes to the planting plan.

The courtyard project closely resembles a real-world design job, said Alexander.

“The only difference is that most designers work with residential clients. Most of the time you’re not going to be presenting in front of a committee,” she said. “It was a very good opportunity for them to sharpen their presentation skills. They definitely got to practice on something they know is going to go in, plus they’re really excited that once it goes in they can take pictures and put them in their portfolio. So it’s very important for that.”

PCC’s 2008 voter-approved $374 million bond program is increasing opportunities for residents to access quality, affordable higher education close to where they live and work. Additional classrooms, updated equipment and technology, and advanced workforce training programs are helping to pave the way for future employment options. For more information, visit


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