The Learning Barge
2006 - 2009
The Learning Barge initiative is a unique example of integrating community partners and professionals into the academy in order to create an environmentally conscientious, built project with positive, wide-reaching social and educational implications. This multi-semester, interdisciplinary project to design and build the Learning Barge, a floating, self-sustaining field station, would be impossible to achieve without an innovative structure that unites teaching and practice. Several professionals, including architects, engineers, naval architects, ecologists, teachers and others contributed their expertise and efforts throughout the process, working closely with students to help them understand the innovations and complexities in professional practice.
Located on the most polluted tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the Learning Barge provides interactive K-12 and adult education about how the river ecology and human activities are inextricably linked. Construction was completed in September 2009 and popular daily field trips are offered to area school children and adults. Moving to a different urban river restoration site every few months, the Learning Barge will teach participants about the tidal estuary ecosystem, wetland and oyster restoration and remediation efforts, as well as sustainable power generation, rainwater harvesting and other green building technologies. The project has been designed to teach through example by harnessing energy from sun and wind, filtering rainwater and gray water in a contained bed wetland, and utilizing recycled materials and green technologies.
UVA partnered with The Elizabeth River Project and three school districts to develop the curriculum and educational programs. The Use Plan estimates that this semi-nomadic field station will touch the lives of more than 19,000 people each year via school field trips, university research, teacher training, and public workshops and events. By actively engaging students with the Elizabeth River, the Learning Barge encourages environmental stewardship and creates a significant national model for education about urban habitat restoration and sustainable architecture. The research, design and fabrication phases were generously funded by the Virginia Environmental Endowment, US EPA, Lowe's Educational Trust, Dominion Foundation, Norfolk Southern Foundation, Norfolk Foundation and several others.
The project has received numerous design awards, including the NCARB Prize for Creative Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy, National Student Collaborative Design Award from the American Institute of Landscape Architects, Go Green Honor Award from the James River Green Building Council, and the Youth Council for Sustainable Science and Technology P3 Design Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. In April 2007 the Learning Barge team won the US EPA P3 Sustainability Award in a competition on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Most recently, the project was honored with an Excellence on the Waterfront Award from The Waterfront Center. In acknowledgment of her innovative pedagogy that enabled the project, Ms. Crisman received the 2007-08 Collaborative Practice Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the 2008 AIA Education Award from the American Institute of Architects.
The Learning Barge initiative represents the future of architecture towards greater synthesis with environment and ecology achieved through intertwined phases of research and design, and an integrated way of working across scales: from watershed, to district, to detailed architecture. While demonstrating the didactic value of architecture for public environmental education, the project establishes a proactive model of both service-learning and professional engagement in the academy.
Crisman, P. "Environmental and Social Action in the Studio: Three Live Projects along the Elizabeth River," in Agency: Working with Uncertain Architectures. F. Kossak, D.Petruscu, eds. (London: Routledge, 2010): 32-46.
Crisman, P. "The Learning Barge," Seeking the City: Visionaries on the Margins. M. Pride and D. Froehlich, eds. (Washington, DC: ACSA Press, 2008): 962-965.
Crisman, P. "Working on the Elizabeth River," Journal of Architectural Education, v.61:1 (2007): 84-91.
Crisman, P. "Making Connections," in Assuming Responsibility. L. Boza and M. Rinehart, eds. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University, 2007): 139-144.
Crisman, P. "Architecture Working for the Environment," Lunch: Dialect, v.2 (2007): 13-25.
"The Learning Barge" radio interview with Professor Phoebe Crisman on With Good Reason. Produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and broadcast on National Public Radio, 8/1/2009.
"The Learning Barge," radio interview with Professor Phoebe Crisman on Engineering Innovation. Produced by the National Academy of Engineering broadcast on the Federal News Radio, 4/29/2007.
Time Lapse Photos: Barge under construction by UVA students, faculty and shipyard workers
May 30, 2009: Deconstructing and moving the classroom components from UVA fabrication facility
June 5, 2009: Delivering hull section 1, "pod" workshop and shipping container storeroom
June 5, 2009: Constructing the classroom 'donor wall'
June 10, 2009: Lifting hull section 2 into place with two cranes and forklift
June 13, 2009: Erecting the classroom steel beams
June 22, 2009: Lifting hull section 3 into place with crane and forklift
June 24, 2009: Pouring the bathroom concrete slab
June 26, 2009: Assembling the bathroom enclosure
July 2 - 9, 2009: Building the armature wall
July 17 - August 14, 2009: Forming and pouring the concrete wetland basins
July 27, 2009: Lifting hull section 4 into place with crane and forklift
August 4 - 6, 2009: Installing the clerestory windows
August 25, 2009: "Samson" lifting Learning Barge into the Elizabeth River
Videos: Barge in Operation
"Launching the Learning Barge," Dominion Virginia, September 14, 2009.
"Education About the Water, On the Water," What Matters, WHRO, November 2009.
"Western Branch Students Visit the Learning Barge," Thinking Out Loud, WCTV, May 2010.
"Learning Barge 'Splash'," Elizabether River Project, September 2011.
"A Visit to the Learning Barge," My Beach Report, Plan Sea TV, September 2011.
"Teach Green #33: Deer Park Students Visit the Learning Barge," November 2011.
"Educating about Human Health + the Built Environment: A Critical Evaluation of the Learning Barge," Environment Virginia 2013: Charting Our Future: New Tools for Complex Challenges, VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics, Lexington, VA 4/2013.
"Advancing Sustainability through Design and Pedagogy," Revolution in Ideas / Evolution in Practice Conference, Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI), Williamsburg, VA 3/2009.
"Making Connections: Environmental + Social Action through Design," Agency Conference, Architecture Humanities Research Association (AHRA), University of Sheffield, UK 11/2008.
"Advancing Sustainability through Multi-Disciplinary Research Service Learning," AASHE 2008 Conference, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Raleigh, NC 11/2008.
"Fostering Stewardship: Environmental and Social Action in Architectural Education," Walter Wagner Forum: AIA National Convention, American Institute of Architects, Boston, MA 5/2008.
"The Learning Barge Project: Students Engaging the Community + Environment, AIA National Convention, American Institute of Architects, Boston, MA 5/2008.
"Making Connections: Environmental and Social Action through Design, ACSA Annual Meeting, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, Houston, TX 3/2008.
"The Learning Barge: Teaching about Intertwined Social and Environmental Ecologies," North American Association of Environmental Education Annual Conference, Norfolk, VA 10/2007.
"Making Connections," The Architecture of Stewardship Conference, Catholic University, Washington, DC 10/2007.
"The Learning Barge: Teaching about Intertwined Social and Environmental Ecologies," Virginia Association of Science Teachers Annual Conference, Williamsburg, VA 10/2007.
"Enviromental + Cultural Ecologies on the Elizabeth River," Structures for Inclusion 7 Conference, Design Corps, UNCC School of Architecture, Charlotte, NC 4/2007.
"The Learning Barge: Engaging Cultural + Environmental Ecologies on the Elizabeth River," 3rd National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration, New Orleans, LA 12/2006.