Seating Aggregation Landscape (SAL)

In this spring 2016 undergraduate design-build studio led by assistant professor Chandler Ahrens, juniors and seniors used digital tools and manual fabrication techniques to design and fabricate an iconic seating and shade structure for the Nahed Chapman New American Academy, part of the St. Louis Public Schools District. NCNAA serves recent immigrants in kindergarten through tenth grade, providing them with a supportive environment to transition to St. Louis, including English language support and academic services. Students stay at NCNAA for two years before moving on to a standard public school to complete their education. The incredibly diverse student body speaks a wide range of languages and hails from 24 countries.

The original impetus for this project project came from local architect Peter Tao, a 1979 WashU architecture alumnus and member of the steering committee for the St. Louis Mosaic Project, which seeks to make St. Louis the fastest-growing U.S. metro area for immigration growth by 2020. Tao shared an article about how soccer brought together young immigrants from all over the world with colleagues connected to the Mosaic Project. His email made its way to NCNAA principal Donnie Harris, who asked Tao to take a look at the asphalt playfield behind the NCNAA campus. Tao rallied a group of construction industry leaders to take ownership of the field. Working with the PHL, Inc., Construction Forum STL, St. Louis Public Schools, and the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, they are in the process of designing an artificial turf field to be installed at the school, complete with bleachers and goals.

The WashU design-build studio developed a proposal for the strip along the edge of the field that separates the playing area from a school parking lot. The students began the semester by meeting with NCNAA stakeholders and visiting the site. After a thorough assessment, they proposed three concepts to NCNAA stakeholders and a group of upper-level students (eighth through tenth grade), who provided feedback that prompted questions about safety and interaction. The WashU students synthesized the feedback and initial concepts, pulling from all three to create a proposal that considered shade, materials, and the environment of particular spaces within the structure. This proposal was also presented to NCNAA stakeholders and students for additional feedback before a final proposal was approved and executed.

The final concept, Seating Aggregation Landscape (SAL), creates a series of spaces for interaction: reclining, hiding, chatting, and more. Students gave careful consideration to selecting materials designed for durability and comfort. White, high-density polyethylene sheets, typically used to make cutting boards, were used for the planar surfaces in order to prevent damage. Steel tubes were carefully cut and welded with smooth ends to make the installation stronger and safer. The entire structure was designed to be easily disassembled with the correct tools, allowing it to be fabricated at WashU and later installed at NCNAA when the field was completed.

When asked about what they learned from this studio experience, students pointed to better understanding the complex needs of stakeholders, and how to translate those needs into design. They also emphasized the importance of learning to work as a group, and to communicate with their fellow team members and with their stakeholders.

The field project and final installation are expected to be complete in time for Welcoming Week, a national week of events to welcome immigrants and refugees, that is scheduled for September 16-20, 2016.

The following students participated in this course: Samuel Guenin, Janine Lang, Moritz Lehner, Adrienne Pearce, Jewel Pei, Armaan Shah, Ji Ye Song, Meera Toolsidas, Lorryn Wilhelm, Yili Zha, and Mo Zhou. Graduate architecture student Nicholas Chilton was the teaching assistant.

Funding was provided as part of CityStudioSTL.


"Industry Rallies Around Immigrant Youth," posted by Construction Forum STL


Saint Louis Public Schools
Gateway Welcome Project
Tao + Lee Associates, Inc.
Construction Forum STL