Hands-on Experience in the Material Reuse Program at the UGA College of Environment and Design

Author: Kevan Williams
Contact: | 706-369-5885
UGA Center for Community Design & Preservation

Hands-on Experience in the Material Reuse Program at the UGA College of Environment
and Design

University of Georgia students are partnering with Chris McDowell, director of the UGA
Material Reuse Program, to plan and build several new gardens for community organizations
throughout Athens. The Material Reuse Program, a pilot project of the College of Environment and
Design, salvages materials from construction and demolition projects and reclaims them for
landscape projects.

“The purpose of these projects is to expose undergraduate design students to the benefits of
reusing ‘waste’ materials in landscape construction through hands-on application,” says McDowell,
who is a recent graduate of the Master of Landscape Architecture program.
The undergraduate Landscape Architecture students are gaining practical experience through
the service-learning projects, applying principles learned in their Landscape Ecology course. Taught
by Associate Professor Alfie Vick and Lauren Zeichner, the course explores how ecological
principles can be used to address design problems in the built environment. Clients include Casa de
Amistad, a nonprofit resource center for the Latino Community in Athens; Clarke Central High
School’s agricultural sciences program; and the Brooklyn Community Garden, which is managed by
the Athens Land Trust. The classes also worked on the landscape at Lily Branch near the Lamar
Dodd School of Art at UGA and Fowler Drive elementary school.

Lauren Zeichner, a part-time faculty member in the College of Environment and Design and
Athens landscape architect, explains that the class is meant to show the students applications of what
they learn about in class—from rainwater harvesting to plant community development to educating
the public about sustainable practices with demonstrable techniques. “I also insist that our ‘clients’
have some form of commitment or ownership of the project; otherwise, the projects might not have
long-term management. These gardens are living entities that need care and unless people have
invested in them in some way, they will not flourish,” she explains.

For Casa de Amistad, students are designing and building a communal garden that will serve as
a space for community members to grow vegetables as well as gather for recreational activities and
hold workshops and classes. Alex Borges, Executive Director of Casa de Amistad had positive
reviews for the Landscape Architecture students: “Everyone has a great attitude and I am very happy
with how the plan is going so far to rebuild our community garden.”

At Clarke Central, the students are working with Ag teacher Jeff Holland to develop a master
plan for an outdoor learning laboratory that will include a plant nursery pad, composting facility,
production beds, an orchard and an outdoor classroom space. UGA landscape architecture students
are also building the first phase, which will include a terraced vegetable, herb, and pollinator garden.
At the Brooklyn Community Garden, a 10-year-old effort, students are updating and replacing
existing raised beds, building a shade-structure and patio, and establishing a new compost system.
These class projects were funded with grants from the Office of Service Learning at UGA, a
Department of Natural Resources grant and generous plant donations from Thyme after Thyme plant
nursery near Winterville.

According to McDowell, “The students gain first-hand knowledge of how to interact with a
client, manage tasks, specify materials and work as a team in projects with real consequences and
deadlines. Moreover, the students design tangible products that have a lasting community impact.
They can see the evidence of their own work and how it affects their clients and the community.”
In addition to the community projects, a group of students is working with McDowell at the
Reuse Program’s facility on South Milledge Ave. to develop a demonstration garden that will
showcase some of the different reuse applications for salvaged materials. As part of each project,
students are both designing and building, taking their concepts all the way through to completion. All
the materials incorporated into the projects are locally sourced from nearby construction and
demolition projects such as dilapidated barns and campus construction projects. This process
manages the environmental impact; avoiding compounding landfill waste and purchasing unnecessary
new material. Beyond the direct benefits to students and their clients, these innovative projects serve
to educate the broader community about how our landscapes can become more sustainable and
environmentally friendly, as well as beautiful. The facility includes raised beds for pollinator plants,
herbs and vegetables, a demonstration for water harvesting, salvaged pallet fencing and a small green

“A great deal of construction and demolition material ends up in our landfills unnecessarily.
Through projects like the Material Reuse Program, our students are learning alternative, more
sustainable approaches to construction,” says Dan Nadenicek, Dean of the College of Environment
and Design.

The UGA College of Environment and Design houses one of the oldest and largest landscape
architecture programs in the U.S. and received number one ranking in sustainability education from
Design Intelligence magazine in 2012. The Material Reuse Program is a part of the College of
Environment and Design. For more information contact Program Coordinator Chris McDowell at