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Innovative Building Promotes Meaningful Engagement at Beardsley Farm

Exterior design for the education center at Beardsley Farm

Exterior design for the education center at Beardsley Farm

Design-build teaching and learning is an innovative approach to educating architects and making architecture, with the potential to advance both the practice and the academy. Students and faculty from UT’s College of Architecture and Design worked in partnership with professionals and city officials to create an innovative public building for Beardsley Community Farm—a non-profit urban farm located in Knoxville’s Mechanicsville neighborhood. In designing an architecture to foster meaningful community engagement, students were able to deeply learn aspects of design, craft, and community with profound effect.

Beardsley Community Farm promotes food security and sustainable agriculture through education and community outreach. Their mission is “to educate people of all ages about the possibilities and methods of organic and sustainable urban gardening.” They have operated out of the Malcolm Martin Park in an economically-challenged urban neighborhood for almost 20 years, making do with very limited resources. Their new education center, which was designed and largely constructed by UT architecture students, includes interior spaces for a multipurpose classroom, administrative offices, and restrooms. The design minimized the conditioned building footprint to add sheltered exterior spaces serving as a welcome center, outdoor classroom, mudroom for vegetable processing, and a modest amphitheater for addressing the park.

The design approach is characterized by a series of overlays and contrasts, just as Beardsley Community Farm is itself a contrasting entity—a farm within the urban fabric. Ideas of the contemporary vernacular are situated at all scales: site, plan, and detail. The design thesis is to create architecture that facilitates the Farm’s outreach mission by making a place for meaningful community engagement. Comprehensive issues of sustainability and craft were critical, as was the emphasis on design leadership and the ethical imperative of contributing to public space. The academically-driven design-build model allowed the project to be completed at a high level of design for minimal project funds on a construction schedule of only 10 months.

To date, the architecture has been recognized nationally and regionally for design excellence, including winning the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Collaborative Practice Award, the Gold Award from the Brick in Architecture National Design Awards, the Award of Excellence from American Institute of Architects (AIA) Tennessee, the Honor Award from AIA East Tennessee, as well as the Online People’s Choice Award and the Membership Award from AIA East Tennessee.

The full project is a collaboration of the UT Design/Build/Evaluate Initiative (DBEI) of the College of Architecture and Design, the City of Knoxville, the Public Building Authority, Elizabeth Eason Architects, and Merit Construction. The student team was led by UT faculty Assistant Professor Jennifer Akerman and Adjunct Associate Professor Robert French. The building project was primarily funded by the City of Knoxville, with additional material and labor donations from many regional industry partners, including General Shale, Baird & Wilson, StonePeak, Paulk + Co, Harrison Concrete, Columbia Forest Products, Sesco Lighting, Keene, Fry Reglet, and Blum.