Beardsley Farm is a nonprofit urban farm that promotes food security and sustainable agriculture through community outreach. It hosts more than 1,000 K-12 students and 1,500 volunteers each year. The food grown on the farm goes to the community through other non-profits, including food banks.
UT students worked for two years to create the Beardsley Farm Education Center, which provides a gathering place to help Beardsley more effectively engage community residents.
The project allowed the students to push the limits of design thinking, free of the constraints often found in academic and professional settings. The farm became their studio.
The professors used the design/build process, an innovative, hands-on approach to teaching architecture. Students took the project from conception through construction.
“An important goal of design/build education is to help students learn through experiential learning,” says Assistant Professor Jennifer Akerman.
The Education Center includes a classroom, office space, restrooms, and outdoor amenities like an earthen amphitheater carved into a hillside. Functional, flexible spaces are built out of durable materials such as brick and plywood.
Akerman and Robert French, an adjunct associate professor who retired in 2018, received the Collaborative Practice Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) for the project. The award honors best practices in school-based community outreach programs that help faculty, students, and community clients realize common objectives.
The project—a collaboration among the college, the city of Knoxville, the Public Building Authority, Elizabeth Eason Architects, and Merit Construction—was supported by General Shale, AIAETN, Paulk and Co., Stonepeak Tile, Keene Building Products, Columbia Forest Products, Baird and Wilson, and many others.
“We see this project as a model for future collaborations between the city, the university, and the profession,” says Akerman. “We believe key design qualities of the project will enable Beardsley Farm to create a place for the community, to strengthen its outreach and engagement mission, and to promote a broader sustainability rooted in equity, health and wellness, and environmental stewardship.
“Transformative experiences such as this prepare students to serve the community as innovative design professionals,” says Akerman. “We take such pride in knowing we helped create an exceptional place for the city, the farm, and the people of Knoxville.”
The education center is expected to receive LEED silver certification. The ASCA cited the project in 2016 when it named the design/build program as one of the top seven in the country. It won awards for design excellence in 2017 from the Brick Industry Association and the Tennessee chapter of the American Institute of Architects.