Students Build Community Zen Garden – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Build Community Zen Garden

Offering community members a space for meditation and quiet moments of repose, students in Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Gabriella D’Angelo’s “Introduction to Architectural Design I” course recently constructed a meditation labyrinth at Jefferson Street Park in the Founders Square neighborhood. The class partnered with the City of Geneva, the Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center (GNRC), the Founders Square Neighborhood Association and community members to complete the project.

“This was an idea that came from the Neighborhood Association but was made a reality by HWS,” says Sage Gerling, director of neighborhood initiatives for the GNRC. “It adds a completely different element that we’ve never had in one of Geneva’s parks. This is the first space we’ve added that can be used for meditation or reflection.”

After studying and participating in meditation, as well as learning about Buddhist theory, geometry and the history of the Labyrinth and Zen art, students were tasked with designing their own labyrinth in a two-dimensional sketch. They also constructed three-dimensional models. D’Angelo explains that the designs were “derived from nature” as students drew inspiration from their own drawings, meditations and studies.

“I took a picture of two flowers and abstracted the diagrams of them, and the key moment was beauty and chaos,” explains Katie Winovich ’17, an architecture major in the class. “There are moments of repose throughout the garden to allow you to stop and appreciate the beauty that you might not always notice. The flowers I used were in a patch of weeds, and when I stopped and looked I saw the beauty in something that wasn’t necessarily appealing to most people, and that’s where the inspiration really came from.”

Winovich’s labyrinth design was chosen to be implemented at the park after each student presented their designs and gave an explanation for their design choices at a GNRC meeting. After the meeting, members of the GNRC and the Founders Square Neighborhood Association voted on which student’s design to construct in the park. For many community members, the student presentations were the highlight of the entire experience.

“They all had their mock-ups of their own labyrinth design, and it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever watched in my life; I didn’t expect it,” says Founders Square resident Pat Guard, who proposed the idea for the labyrinth to the GNRC. “We got to see the development of it from a concept, before they even knew they were working on a labyrinth, to the sketches and models they brought. The presentations were just outstanding.”

After deciding on a design, students set to work constructing the labyrinth, which took three and a half weeks of class time to build. The process consisted of creating a grid of the design on the grass, assigning each student to a quadrant of the grid, and then digging a channel in which the class laid down rocks, sand and pavers to form the intricate design. To complete the project, D’Angelo says they partnered closely with the City of Geneva, who supplied recycled bricks from Geneva Lakefront Park and also building tools.

“For the students, building the labyrinth was a learning curve, taking a conceptual idea and making it into a reality,” D’Angelo says. “There’s a whole learning process in that transformation of scale and materiality. The students not only designed the labyrinth, but they were at the park, digging into the ground and laying the pavers. This project also presented a learning opportunity for students to engage and work with the community and the City of Geneva to make something innovative happen. I think this is really positive for the community and the students.”

For most students in the class, this was their first opportunity to build something on such a large scale. Not only did it provide them with insight into the process of seeing a project through from design to finished product, but it also allowed them to leave a lasting impact on the City of Geneva.

“It was a really unique opportunity to create something permanent in a location that’s temporary for us as college students,” says Allie Rubin ’17, an architecture major. “It coincides with the theme of the project and the idea that meditating is not a temporary feeling or thought, but a state of mind.”

After the completion of the labyrinth, HWS students and faculty, GNRC members, and representatives from the Founders Square Neighborhood Association gathered in the park to celebrate the new addition to the neighborhood. For both the students and community members involved, the collaborative endeavor proved to be an equally rewarding experience as students garnered the skills that come with navigating the design and construction process while benefiting the local community with the end result.

“It really ties in with everything in the community, that’s why were so excited about it,” Guard says. “It’s normal for HWS to do projects like this in the community. I’ve been here long enough to know that HWS is a natural resource for us, and for this community. HWS students, and the faculty and staff, are a part of this community and we depend on them. This labyrinth is another positive example of that.”