Looking Ahead / Outdoor Learning

COVID-19 has accelerated the dialogue about leveraging outdoor learning environments for school districts in California. Carducci Associates, with our extensive DSA approved landscape experience, has been assisting clients to strategize and implement solutions quickly and easily to create safer spaces for the upcoming year, and also to envision the potential for maximizing outdoor learning (post-pandemic). California’s temperate and mild climate often provides ideal conditions for outdoor-education activities for much of the year. In light of the recent pandemic, which requires physical distancing and increased air-circulation to lessen the chance of transmission among students, the outdoor classroom has become an optimal setting and option to accommodate – and allow for a greater number of– students returning in the fall.


Outdoor spaces offer an economical way to alleviate the spatial constraints of the pandemic on indoor classrooms while also providing: hands-on learning, fresh air, and opportunities for children to connect with the natural environment. Below are some of the lessons we have learned from educators and designers who have already brainstormed and navigated this process. Following these lessons are additional resources to guide community members to understand the strategies shared and also to re-imagine how to see these constraints as growth opportunities for the future of education in California.


1. Understand that enhancing the connection to nature improves student/faculty health and well-being

2. Engaging school grounds and local parks as outdoor classrooms to expand the capacity for students

3. Creating Cohorts to discuss (weekly) research

4. Provide flexibility and choice: Consider a variety of seating in varied layouts

5. Understand whether strategy/implementation is a short-term transition or a long-term investment

6. Take initiative, pilot, evaluate, implement

7. Engage students in the problem-solving process

8. Develop a phased approach to reopening

9. Create an outdoor, bookable meeting-space system (e.g. Stanchion off an area for reserved meetings on campus and provide signage that can be updated with the current user(s) name and duration of use)

10. Discern “higher-usage” areas on campus and provide supplemental outdoor structures to accommodate these densities

11. Improve micro-climate or consider climatic variables to lengthen (maximize) the usage of outdoor spaces in the shoulder seasons (e.g. equip shade structures with heating, cooling or lighting, provide windbreaks, consider acoustics and how to reduce noise to other outdoor classrooms, consider sun movement, temporary and/or permanent DSA-PC approved shade sails, sun umbrellas, etc.)

12. Address infrastructural needs: potential utilities and accessibility needs that will need to be considered when people congregate in different places on campus/school grounds (Wi-Fi, emergency systems, blue lights-visibility accessibility, power charging, increased hand washing stations, etc.)

13. Consider developing zones, especially on larger school campuses, that prioritize access to different user groups (students, faculty, visitors, other community members, etc.)

14. Develop toolkits and resources to educate the school community (provide adequate signage in a variety of sizes, distribute outdoor space guidelines for the diverse types of public spaces on campus, etc.)

15. Consider low-cost, temporary materials to create outdoor classroom spaces

16. Organize outdoor pop-up activities to support student life and foster community (outdoor games, dining, art, etc.)

17. Consider having areas and spaces for both formal (classes, seminars) and informal/casual activities (clubs)

18. Security is paramount, consider ways to restrict access to grounds to ensure safety

19. Consider funding from CARES ACT for educational work and American Association of Dermatology grants for shade

20. For equity make outdoor learning a priority and online learning a back up


1) National COVID 19 Outdoor Learning Initiative: Essential Assets for School District COVID-19 Response

2) The Outdoor Classroom Project: Characteristics of the outdoor classroom and information regarding the physical, cognitive, psychological benefits of outdoor learning

3) COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Reentry

4) Planning Outdoor Infrastructure at your School (Free Downloadable Resources)

5) San Francisco Children & Nature: a San Francisco collaborative dedicated to ensuring all youth growing up in the city have the same opportunities to PLAY, LEARN and GROW in NATURE.

6) Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers: a new program dedicated to match schools and districts with volunteer design teams to help plan and lay out outdoor classrooms. Click here to sign up for design assistance. Designers click here to sign up to assist schools.

7) Fast Company: “Inside the Quest to Reopen Schools—by Moving Classes Outside”

8)The Atlantic: “Why Can’t We Have Class Outside? It might be the answer to America’s school-reopening problem”

9) PBS Newshour Weekend: “A California Collective Makes the Case for Outdoor Learning” (video)

10) Adapting College and University Campus Outdoor Spaces in Response to COVID-19 (ASLA Professional Practice Webinar) (video)

Press Release

John Hinkel Park / Grand Opening

When the beautiful historic clubhouse of John Hinkel Park burned down in 2015, neighbors and Berkeley city staff came together to discuss the future of the park and its users. Built in 1918, the redwood clubhouse structure served its purpose for 73 years, officially closing its doors in 1991 due to the estimated $1-2 million-dollar repair costs to restore it to habitability. After the 2015 fire, the city (Berkeley) was able to receive insurance money, which planted the seed of innovation. At the same time, this allowed John Hinkel Park – like a Phoenix – “to rise from the ashes,” and reinvigorate the experience of the park that embodies the cultural and architectural history of Berkeley at the turn of the 20th century.

Toward the end of 2015, Carducci Associates and diverse stakeholders – including city staff, Council Members, and invested neighbors – collaborated to envision a new chapter for John Hinkel Park. Over five years, after multiple community meetings and the approval of the Landmark Commission, the community decided to replace the clubhouse with enhanced site access, ADA improvements, unique site furnishings and a picnic terrace that would maintain the park’s natural aesthetic while celebrating the past that John Hinkel himself gave to the neighborhood.

Carducci Associates leveraged the park’s history through the use of salvaged materials from the clubhouse, such as wood and stone, and designed custom features that highlight the park’s past for present and future users. Some of these features include rock walls, rock and wood benches, and picnic tables topped with 100-year-old salvaged redwood to preserve the memory of the clubhouse’s original location. If one were to examine the picnic tables, one can see the chars and scars of the blaze that paved the way for the park’s renewal.

Finally, after years of waiting, Carducci Associates is honored and excited to say that John Hinkel Park can once again serve as a space where neighbors and friends can gather to make new memories. After the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (July 31, 2020), visitors practiced social distancing while enjoying the renewed park. There were plenty of smiles that even face coverings could not mask.

Thank you to the City of Berkeley, the Landmark Commission, and the John Hinkel Park community for entrusting this special project to Carducci Associates. May John Hinkel Park continue to flourish in all of its cultural and natural beauty.

Community Meeting
Newly Renovated Picnic Terrace
Newly Renovated Picnic Terrace
Socially Distanced Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (July 31, 2020)

Press Release / Community Meeting / Event

Let there be plants! / Conrad Square gets a refresh

Intended as a short-term beautification and improvement to Joseph Conrad Square in San Francisco’s North Beach/Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, Carducci Associates’ landscape plan preserves existing trees and introduces a low growing and varied plant palette designed to draw and welcome visitors in all seasons.

The low growing planting and improved landscape lighting – two basic principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) – were incorporated in response to the community’s ongoing concerns regarding criminal activity in the space. These elements will help to increase visibility and surveillance, thus making it a safer place to occupy throughout the day, and night.

On January 17th, the first phase of Conrad Square was completed in collaboration with the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District and the SF Rec & Parks. (The SF Rec & Parks Dept. obtained the plant materials, compost, and the mulch; it used 20 gardeners to install the planting in one day.) The first phase included: clearing previous planting that might have encouraged unwanted activity. In turn, this allowed the new succulent and drought-tolerant garden to take root on-site. Check out the new plants if you’re in the area!

More information about our project is available here.

Site Visit / On the Boards

Welcome! / K.C. Farrell Joins the Carducci Team

The newest member of our staff, Associate K.C. Farrell has a team-oriented approach to design, along with ten years of experience. “The best idea wins,” he says, of collaborating. “I believe that good design is achieved without ego and that ideas can come from anywhere and anyone at any time.” At all times, K.C. brings this attitude to his work.

So far, K.C. has brought a fresh perspective to old projects, leadership to new ones, improvements to our office standards, and a bounty of herbs from his garden. “Every day that I come to work, I strive to design something with meaning. My goal is to create spaces that allow users to have unique experiences and create memories that will outlast the built environment.”

His previous experience includes high-end residential, retail, campus, and public works, and he studied landscape architecture at UC Berkeley and UC Davis. In 2008, K.C. began volunteering at the National AIDS Memorial Grove (NAMG) monthly workdays to maintain and improve the eight-acre site. Soon after, he became a workday Team Leader and Site Advisor on the Site Committee, where he helped design and develop site improvement plans.

In the years that followed, K.C. has continued as a Site Advisor to help lead many projects, including a historic waterfall restoration (2011), South and North Slope repaving (2016-2017), and SF Gay Men’s Chorus Circle (2018). Of his decade as a NAMG volunteer, he says: “serving as a Workday Volunteer is still some of the most enjoyable work that I do. Digging my hands into the soil and working with a team in an effort to maintain a landscape that is sacred to so many people is truly a rewarding experience.”

Our newest team member, K.C. Farrell (top left) volunteers at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.