Students design potential bear center

Giving students a real-world assignment makes their classwork feel more worthwhile and can let their passions come through in a way a stock assignment may not.

This past academic year, two WSU School of Design and Construction courses had students design a new WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center as class projects.

A schematic plan for a new Bear Center, including a list of plants and three separate outdoor enclosures.
Jaime Kemple’s plan for the landscape architecture for a potential new WSU Bear Center.

In the fall of 2017, interior design students came up with various ideas for the center’s main building. Then, this spring, landscape architecture students took some of those ideas, or created some of their own, to produce complete designs for a new Bear Center.

Each student created an infographic on the bears and their needs, another infographic focused on the inventory and analysis of the potential new site. Then they generated plan renderings for the new facility, said Landscape Architecture Assistant Professor Michael Sánchez.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about ‘What if I was a bear, what would I want?’” said Jaime Kemple, a second-year landscape architecture student in the class. “We were all really passionate about the project, and it was so intriguing and exciting that I wish we had more time to work on it.”

Many of the designs included multiple, separated outdoor enclosures, allowing more bears to spend more time in grassy open areas. The designs included water in the form of ponds or small pools for the bears to relax and cool down in.

They also included permanent, built-in enrichment structures: items for the bears to interact with that stimulate their physical and mental abilities.

The students also included more learning experiences and viewing opportunities for the public, without being intrusive on the bears’ space.

The class spoke with WSU bear experts who either work or have worked at the current Bear Center.

The major consideration for each project was the well-being of the bears.

One of the WSU bears running in their current enclosure.

The hope is the students can take their renderings and use them in their portfolios when applying for internships or future jobs.

“Part of our mission is to combine community learning projects into our studio work,” Sánchez said. “We like to incorporate real-world solutions that will benefit the community. This project fit that that mission.”

These projects were designed for a space in the WSU Arboretum. The students’ designs included between 20 and 40 acres of space to lay out.

“It’s a huge step up for our students, whose previous projects were on the level of a small city block or smaller,” Sánchez said. “I was impressed by how well they met the challenge and learned how to incorporate real-world issues like the current landscape and the people involved.”

In addition to speaking with bear experts, students also took a trip to a large-animal sanctuary in Spokane to see how they designed their facilities to care for their animals.

“It was good for them to see that first-hand,” Sánchez said. “They needed to see an example for how to work with the space and environment that is available and to do the absolute best you can within those constraints.”

The landscape architecture students also became emotionally invested in their work.

“We were so impressed by how passionate and dedicated the people who work with the bears are,” Kemple said. “It’s inspiring to see people who care so much about what they’re doing that you want to do your best to help them do their jobs. And to help the bears have the best possible facilities as well.”