Overview Instructions

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Welcome to the 2015 DiscoverDesign.org National High School Architecture & Design Competition!

This year's real-world design problem is to design a pocket park for your neighborhood or school. Click to view the 2015 rules and entry guidelines and registration. 

Check out the 2015 Top 10 Winners!

Design Challenge Background

Pocket parks have the ability to activate under-used or open spaces, and turn them into vibrant community spaces. No matter where they pop-up, they provide a unique place for people to gather, rest, play, or escape the hustle and bustle of the day. Cities across the country have been creating more and more pocket parks to bring neighborhoods to life & create a positive sense of place and pride for their community. A pocket park is a small park, typically build on a single vacant lot or on a small irregular piece of land, that is accessible to the general public.

Design Challenge Brief

Design a pocket park for a small piece of land near your school or in your neighborhood. Your design needs to provide spaces for groups to gather, spaces or activites for multiple age groups, and should be no bigger than 14,500 square feet. What might a park look like that is designed with community needs in mind, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all design?

A standard lot size in Chicago is 50'x125'. You could occupy two Chicago lots, adjust the dimensions, or find a lot in your neighborhood that does not exceed the square footage. Can't find an open space? Redesign one!

Your design should include a variety of elements that make a park... a park! From benches, bike shelters and meeting spaces, to playgrounds & pavilions, to cafes, information kiosks, or arts performance areas. You should also consider sustainability issues and the environmental impact of your design.


HINT: Click the little 1, 2, or 3 on the image to get more information and tips throughout the project! 

A pocket park is a small park accessible to the general public on a single lot | Photo courtesyof sourcethestation.com

What should I upload?

For your Overview, it is important to post a short, but clear, ‘success statement’ that communicates the goals you hope to solve and achieve through your design solutions. When you’re nearly finished with your design project, you can go back to this success statement to see if your design has met the criteria you first proposed.

For each step along the Design Process we'll give you some suggestions on what to think about, try out, and upload.

For this project we are to take a piece of land near our school or community and transform it into a pocket park. The pocket park most not be any larger than 14,500 square feet. A pocket park, according to the dictionary, is a very small park or outdoor area for public leisure, especially an urban plaza or courtyard with benches and fountains. So, it is basically a normal park just in a more compact manner.
I plan to have an urban park to go with the changes that are going on in my hometown, Las Vegas. I want it to bring an oasis to the desert feeling that we constantly have throughout the year.Not only do I want it to be an oasis, but I also want to help conserve water. I plan to do this by using plants that do not require constant watering and that can live in the desert climate that Las Vegas is known for. I think that the best way to make this a modern park is to use colors and shapes to bring some color to the bland neutral colors that the desert is known for.
I plan to have an area where people can go and sit and play or eat in the shade, provided by a canopy. The park will be cyclist friendly and i will therefore have a bike shelter. This will help the bike from getting to hot in the desert sun. There will also be a playground for children to play in. I also plan to have an area in which people of all ages can go and relax. A place where they can meditate or just sit an relax.
To community seems to be growing according to the increase in home sales in the area. Also, this area is predominately a Hispanic neighborhood. Here many different types of families can go and spend time with their children at the park.
The plants that will be chosen will be plants that are mostly self sufficient and need very little taking care of. These plant will be desert plants like the Arizona Ash tree and others. I also plan on making this a green park. This is to help give the oasis feeling to the park. The park will also have ornamental grasses that are water saving and low maintenance like the Blue Grama grass and others like it.
Although the park will be a green park, the type of plant will be those that help save water. Not only that, but the oxygen that will be created by the plants will help the pollution that is in the city. This will help kids, and other age groups, that have breathing difficulties to breath better. .


Your overview is both fantastic and reasonable. Pocket parks are meant to be simple and seamless in their environment, which you have outlined well.

Conserving water through the use of specific plant species was impressive in your research. The park design has many different uses and features which will successfully draw many users from the community.

Collect Instructions

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Upload a quick sketch of your ideas! | San Francisco park sketch, photo courtesy of ArchitectureForHumanity.org

Collect Information

In the Collect Info step of the design process, you try to gather as much information as possible about your existing school or community parks and spaces, along with the students, staff and neighbors who will use it.  You can't propose new solutions until you figure out and document what the existing problems are.

What makes a park?

No two parks are the same, so what is it that turns a park from just a plot of land to a vital community space? Take a look at parks near your school, home, work, neighborhood, and city! For the Collect Info step of the Design process you'll gather notes, sketches, photos, videos, etc. of your observations and research. 

Try This

  • Walk around your school grounds and a neighborhood park. Take pictures of what makes that space a "park".
  • Visit Flickr or another photo sharing site and search for types of parks. Determine good and bad examples of how parks meet the needs of their community - for all ages.
  • Post images of buildings, colors, designs, textures, or other things that inspire you in this step. Make sure you give credit to your source!
  • Don't forget to explain your thinking in writing for every image you upload! Tell us why it's important and how it's impacting your thinking.

Think about

  • What kind of outdoor spaces does your school have? Would you consider them a "park"? Why or why not?
  • What kind of parks are in your community? What do you like or dislike about them?
  • Who uses parks? How do different people use parks? Do they all use them the same way or differently?

Colorful sheltered playground at Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan

What types of structures do parks have?

No two parks are the same - each is designed with a specific community and use in mind. Therefore, there are many different types of activities and spaces for people of all ages to enjoy and interact with. Here are a few ideas to kick start your research (Hint: these are great words to search in Google Images!).

Adventure playgrounds

While professional designers used to play a major role in the design of playgrounds around the world, the playground often seen today is a primary-colored collection of plastic equipment with predetermined uses, leaving little room for children’s imaginations. Landscape architects such as Michael Van Valkenburgh are now incorporating different kinds of play spaces into their designs, including in the new Maggie Daley park in Chicago. These ‘adventure playgrounds,’ as they are often called, are made of natural materials and sculpted landscapes with abstract shapes and materials, allowing for the most freedom for imagination.


Bicyle Shelters

Outdoor bicycle shelters can be both functional and beautiful in a park space. They offer park visitors a place to lock up their bikes and protect them from the weather.  Great places to store bikes safely and in an interesting way can encourage community members to ride their bikes more, and be sure to make a stop at your pocket park! A company called Park-a-Bike specializes in creating these structures - Learn more HERE!

Ruby Hill Park in Denver, CO | Photo courtesy of levittdenver.org

What types of structures do parks have?

Looking for even more information? What kinds of pavilions or structures have you noticed in parks near you? Have you ever seen a parklet? Here's some inspiration:


Pavilions can be in many forms or functions. Some are simple and protect picnickers from a rainy afternoon. Others are sculptural, outdoor park kiosks, or for community performances

Think about: What kind of pavilion would your neighborhood benefit from? What examples can you find? What do you like or dislike about them? Why?

Once you choose a kind of pavilion, you'll need to think about what it needs to have inside and out. Here are some things you may want to include in your design:

  • public and/or private use spaces
  • bathrooms
  • storage rooms for food, supplies, or winter storage
  • seating for performances or gathering
  • tables and chairs; benches
  • functional spaces based on your specific pavilion: a kitchen, backstage, open outdoor areas, information windows, etc.



Take inspiration from these tiny parks that pop up in unexpected places like parking spots. Many of these parklets are created by community members looking to activate a space in their own neighborhood, and are moveable, foldable, and able to literally pop-up anywhere!

Think about: What do you notice about their use of space? What kinds of activities can they accomodate in just one parking spot?


Pumbaa's work for the Collect Information step:

The community in this part of town is predominately Hispanic/Latin and where there has been an increase in children that are younger than 14 years old.
I have chosen this as the site in which i will design the park. it is near the art district which...
I think that it should be a park where there is a lot of open space where children can run. There...
This is how green I think the park should be. This picture was taken at a local park. I think that...
This is the aerial view of the site that I chose to build the park on. I think that it will greatly...
Like in this area I think that it would be a good idea to idea to incorporate a statue into the...
I think that parks should not be just grass. there should be colors in the park, because in the end...
This is a local park that is located near my neighborhood. Here you can can see the essence of what...

Brainstorm Instructions

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Silver Spring Metro Pocket Park | Photo courtesy of eleven55ripley.com

Brainstorm Ideas

In the Brainstorm Ideas step of the design process, you will develop ideas from all of the information you've collected. You will start to be inspired by new places and you put some early ideas down on paper that show what you've found in the Collect Info step. You also might take more photos to show specific new ideas you have. 

The simple diagrams you make here will help you understand how the  pocket park location and design compare with your new ideas.

Try This

  • Draw a floorplan or siteplan of your parks existing facilities. How are all of the different spaces connected? What are the different pathways you can take through all of these spaces? Map all of these structures and spaces.
  • Use Google Maps to view and print out an aerial photo of your park. Take measurements of the overall dimensions of the area, of both structures and outdoor spaces and use the aerial to map out the measurements.
  • Post this aerial map and sketch here so everyone can understand the relationship between your school building, the neghborhood, park spaces available, and the proposed site of your new park or redesigned park features. Describe the surrounding area and note existing structures such as paths, seating, bike racks, pavilions, playgrounds, concession stands, and any fences. 
  • On a piece of tracing paper placed over the aerial photo of your school, sketch a diagram showing a large arc around the building to show the path of the sun throughout the day.  This drawing is called a site analysis diagram.  (Remember, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.)

Landuse Map in Cary, North Carolina | Photo courtesty of townofcary.org

Think About

  • Will your new pocket park replace your school or neighborhood's existing park spaces or become an addition to a different part of the community? Will it be built in an empty lot or space?  Will it be between buildings, out in a field, or built on the roof?  You decide.
  • Spend some time looking at the aerial photo of the area you select.  What types of other buildings surround your the site?  Homes, businesses, parks, parking lots, or an empty field?  How will these other buildings impact the design of your new athletic pavillion? Create a land-use map!
  • What types of streets surround your school? Are they busy or quiet? What types of streets are in your neighborhood? What might be the best place for people to relax and play?
  • Based on the site analysis diagram you've sketched, where is the sun located throughout the school day?
  • How can the structures and outdoor areas of your new pocket park be positioned to take advantage of the sunlight for good lighting?

Pumbaa's work for the Brainstorm Ideas step:

I am developing idea that will work, not only with the climate and everyday weather of the Las Vegas desert and help conserve water in the dry area that we live in.
I like the idea that is shown in this picture of having a very modern canopy covering the benches...
I developed this park. It had three paths that lead to the center of the park where there will be a...
I think that these trees, the Texas Mountain Laurel, would be great for a park here in Las Vegas,...
I like the idea of having benches that somewhat resemble the benches in the picture above. I want...
I like this idea that i found on the internet about having a step like area where people can go sit...
I wanted the park to be something that would be unique to the traditional park that we have here in...

Develop Instructions

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Pocket Park with Bocce Ball court | Photo courtesy of Lennar

Develop Solutions

You've been gathering all sorts of information, and brainstorming creative options for your pocket park. Now it's time to put all the pieces together and make some final decisions. In the Develop Solutions step, your rough ideas come together with drawings and models that can show others your solutions for a new pocket park.

Try This

  • Try out different ideas and save each “version”. You do not want to lose a good idea later!  Other people viewing your project - other students around the country, your teacher, and mentors - want to see how your ideas have changed over time. This means that while you're working on your digital model, you’ll want to be sure to keep re-saving it with a new file name every few days as you work through the steps.
  • Make a list of your ideas and associated sketches, or practice models. For your final upload you will want to write a short but effective paragraph of your process and what you found. This will inform the direction you will take for the final solution.
  • Show your ideas to your teacher and peers for some feedback. You can also review your progress with the test group you may have interviewed and test whether your design would meet their needs or address their concerns. Learn from the feedback you receive and incorporate into your final design solution.
  • Do not leave work for the last minute! Going through a detailed design process requires time to gather information, develop ideas, and make improvements. This is difficult or impossible if you try to pull everything together a week before your project is due. Projects that are researched, developed, and well executed will always stand out!

CAD rendering of a park space | Photo courtesy of ivarskalvans.blogspot.com.jpg

Think About

  • Are you reaching your success statement? Review your design and test it against your own observations and review that it has met the project requirements. Did it meet the expectations of the end users that you spoke to? Who is in your community?
  • How do you imagine people will interact with your new pocket park? What will your design contribute to the neighborhood? Why? How so?
  • You have designed with community in mind. What role does the community play in any architect's plans? Talk about it.
  • Keep your park full of activity! How will your park be used in different seasons or weather? Have you been imagining different events or programs that could happen here? Tell us about it! (Check out the High Line in the blue sidebar for some ideas...)

Pumbaa's work for the Develop Solutions step:

I found a way to incorporate all of the things that i wanted to have in my pocket park. I want it to be modern, because of the location of it, the art district.
This is what I want to use for the center of the park. I want to use this, because i thinks that it...
I propose this as a way in which people can sit down and have an area where they can just relax and...
The site that I have chosen for the park is near the art distrct here in Las Vegas. I thought that...
This is what the final center will look like I believe that this will be a calming place where...
I wanted the playground to be the nothing like anything that we have here in Las Vegas. Kids love...
In order to give people a place to sit ans unwind I decided to incorporate picnic tables. I thought...

Final Instructions

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Chicago's 606 bike paths and parks transform an old defunct railway | Photo courtesy of the606.org

Final Design

You're almost there! The Final Design step of the design process is to create more finished drawings and models that illustrate your ideas to others. Remember, your explanation text, and the types of drawings, images, and models you share need to tell the whole story of your project to someone who may or may not have ever visited your neighborhood or pocket park site.

Try This

  • Review your design and test it against your original sucess statement that you wrote for the Overview. Does it meet this criteria?
  • You might want to share floor plans, elevations, renderings of your digital model, photos of a physical model, or a video animation of your model.
  • Be sure to comment on other projects in the competition to foster, encourage, and build an online design community of learners in DiscoverDesign. Who knows, they might just have a great idea to help bring your project to the next level!  CAF will also recognize students that provide both encouragement and constructive criticism on students' work throughout the run of the competition.

Multi-use pocket park proposal | Photo courtesy of archreview.blogspot.com.jpg

Think About

  • Does your final design meet the expectations of the students, community members, and/or school staff   that you interviewed?  If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board and revise your design. 
  • For your final design, you will want to post a short but effective paragraph of your process and the unique solutions you found and developed. Tell us about your ideas and how they may or may not have changed over the course of the project.
  • What essential skills have you learned? Think about where you started this class or project and what you know now. Practice writing about this here - it might come in handy for a job or college application!

Pumbaa's work for the Final Design step:

In order to create a park that would suit the vibe that Las Vegas is known for and the modernization that the town is going through, I decided to make this park a place where one could appreciate the
I incorporated everything in order to create an oasis. The park has an area where one can relax by...
This is what the steps would look like from the point of view from someone standing at 5' 4...
This is what the bike shelter will look like. I think that it will promote people to be active by...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6UXzUkg9Cg This is a video of a walk-through of Garces Park...
This is another rendering of the park. This is what it would look like without the bike shelter....

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