June 26, 2013

Architecture students create outdoor classroom for local preschool

An innovative elevated outdoor classroom designed and constructed by Syracuse Architecture students launched in May at Jowonio pre-school in Syracuse. The school is an internationally recognized institution renowned for its integrated and interactive curriculum for children of all abilities, including those with special needs.

Beginning in August 2012, architecture students under the leadership of Syracuse Architecture faculty advisors Larry Bowne and Sinead Mac Namara worked tirelessly to design, fundraise, and construct Play Perch. The project was initiated when Jowonio approached the Syracuse chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students Freedom by Design group which deploys high-level design and construction to improve the lives of community members experiencing physical, mental, or socioeconomic disabilities.  The scope and ambitions for the project expanded and evolved into a full-time independent study course at the School of Architecture in fall 2012. Financial support for Play Perch includes a pledge from Chancellor Nancy Cantor and the University and the Denny family.


“The intention of this project was to create a progressive and compelling work of architecture while engaging the local community,”says Bowne. “Working with Jowonio, we envision a contribution not only to the school and its work but also to the broader architectural design community.”


Play Perch is built around an old-growth tree within a wooded escarpment on the school’s nature trail and is fully wheelchair accessible.   Within the elevated space, children will experience the elements through an alternate lens in a safe, adaptable learning environment that inspires multi-sensory interaction with nature. In April, the Play Perch team was awarded a Syracuse University Chancellor’sAward for Public Engagement and Scholarship.


“œPlay Perch provides the children with an invaluable opportunity to connect with nature and the sense it gives them that they are part of something larger than themselves,” says Ellen Barnes, Jowonio’s Executive Director.  “The architecture students have been wonderful to work with: great listeners and open to hanging out with our preschoolers so they could imagine the world from three or four feet tall; understanding what it meant to be accessible to all children; and working so hard in all types of  weather to make this dream a reality!  We are so grateful for their efforts. The Play Perch will be available to our children for years to come.”   


“The Play Perch project has been immensely challenging and immensely rewarding,” says Steven O’™Hara,” a third-year student at the School. “The team is all deeply dedicated and proud to be part of such an undertaking.  I believe we are achieving a new level of design, operations, and craftsmanship within the School of Architecture.”


To learn more about Play Perch and to see extensive photos of the project, visit  Donations for Play Perch may be made to the Syracuse University School of Architecture.