Graduate architecture students from Arizona State University are working side-by-side with Mesa residents to help cultivate food and a sense of community as they celebrate Mesa Urban Garden’s grand opening Jan. 26. The free public event continues from 3 p.m. until the rise of the new year’s first full moon in the garden at 212 E. 1st Avenue.
Reid Mosman, Ann Rothove, Jordan Snittjer and Jake Vacek offered their time and talents to help complete the garden by designing structures where garden volunteers and visitors can gather, relax, take classes and share time together. At the grand opening, the ASU students will use presentation boards and a scaled model to help explain how their designs work to interested attendees.
All four students are master’s degree candidates in The Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU with backgrounds ranging from English to interior design and design studies. They have been working with Mesa Urban Garden (MUG) founders and board members, city officials and in-kind donors under the guidance of their former faculty member Milagros Zingoni, a lecturer in The Design School who volunteers with Mesa nonprofit organizations.
“The community had a basic plan for the garden, and they asked Milagros for help completing it,” said Mosman. “They had already constructed large brick columns for the pavilion and needed a roof structure overhead with the main function of providing shade.”
In addition to shade, the roof designed by the students uses steel beams to collect rainwater and channel it to a 2,296-gallon cistern on the ground for irrigating garden plots during summer. The ASU team also included a 3-kilowatt photovoltaic system atop the roof using solar panels to power screens that can enclose the pavilion, folding up or down for both shade and security. Small lights embedded in the screens also rely on solar power.
“Whenever we could, we tried to incorporate double functionality in our design,” said Snittjer.
That paid off when the students presented their structural designs to the City of Mesa’s engineering staff in mid-January. Through its collaboration, the team presented a complete design portfolio, including a structural analysis that verified the pavilion’s fitness for use.
“Jordan spent a lot of time on those calculations and had them double-checked by one of our former professors who is a licensed structural engineer,” said Mosman. “I think the city staff expected us to just have a vague idea of its readiness, and instead, they were blown away.”
Beneath the roof, the pavilion is expected to serve several Mesa Urban Garden community activities, such as yoga classes and cooking demonstrations. A new restaurant scheduled to open next to the garden plans to partner in the cooking classes and include seasonal specials on its menu using ingredients it grows in the garden.
“I dealt with some aspects of MUG not yet finished, such as what is needed for activities happening in the pavilion,” explained Rothove. “I designed the bar-top counters and kitchen space which includes a sink, grill top and storage.”
In addition, the team intends to cover one of the pavilion’s pillars with aluminum etched plaques that acknowledge Mesa Urban Garden volunteers and donors. At the other end of the garden, Vacek took on the assignment of creating a reflection space adjacent to a wood-fired oven and storage building that act as visual barriers to compost and soils.
"My goal was to get the plans done, but funding is still needed to build what I designed,” he said. “My undergraduate degree is in sustainability, so my contributions focused on ways to build and conserve at the same time.”
When they approached ASU faculty, Mesa Urban Garden board member David Crummey said they asked them to produce a sustainable, low-cost design that would require limited maintenance.
“The students went above and beyond in all areas,” he said. “They provided a beautiful, simple solution that is still high-quality, striking and dynamic.”
For the students, the exposure to real projects and real life was invaluable, Zingoni explained.
“It’s made them stronger,” she said. “The idea of helping the community takes them beyond their studio education and it’s taught them not to be afraid to speak up and share their ideas.”
“This experience has been so hands-on and realistic that it’s priceless,” agreed Snittjer. “What MUG is doing is pretty impressive, and it’s been really cool to help out with that.”
To register for the free grand opening or purchase raffle tickets, visit mesaurbangarden.com. To find out more about The Design School, go to design.asu.edu.