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.

This years competition aims to have students become more integrated and aware of their respective communities by addressing the possibility of installing a local pocket park, whom's purpose is to serve as a form of isolated solace from the hardships of daily life, be they big or small. In my case, I have designated the closest park in proximity to my home to undergo major modifications, however I see fit. In a broader view, the general area that my entry resides in is home to two basketball courts and a small stretch of field, although my selection will be restricted to just the playground itself. This mentioned area rests next to an elementary school, "Antelope Hills", with both being located inside a suburban neighborhood called, "Murrieta Oaks". The park is frequented by families whose children are usually of the age two to twelve, and is especially busy on the weekends from seven a.m. to approximately eight p.m.

Occupation of the park often consists of visits from parents and their juniors lasting for sometimes hours, according to my observations. This hub of social interaction is also utilized for congregations such as parties. Given its location and high level of convenience, the park is an ideal space for escaping the mundane trials of suburban life. The park doesn't strive to be more than a humble opportunity for children to reign free about their imaginations and for parents to relieve stress and worry not the challenges of life beyond its recreational boundaries.

Despite its contemporary design, the park's pre-existing structure leaves much to be desired. There is awkward tension between the dichotomous separation of the tables and the playground, engendering subtle stress. There is no tangible path connecting the tables and the playground, forcing you to either walk directly on the grass or go around via sidewalk, thus omitting any ease of access. Besides the lack of a seamless transition between the seating and the play area, there is little shade protecting any visitors, save one gazebo. If the park were to truly provide a most relaxing experience, shade, I insist, is one of the more important priorities.

To tend to these flaws, I will organize my plans into separate phases: Collect Info, Brainstorm Ideas, Develop Solutions, and lastly Final Design. Every decision, observation, and conclusion will serve a purpose (this is imperative in architecture!). For guidance, I will often quote designers and the NAAB Student Performance Criteria in the Collected Info phase. Because I intend on attending a collage that is accredited, I feel it would be useful to expose myself early to the expectations of a licensed architect.

I also want to mention why I've made the decision to reference photos and information via comments. I wanted to provide a wealth of information to best define my project, and I believed a single image for every category doesn't suffice. The large assortment of data compensates for this slight breach of convenience. I am passionate about this project, and will stop at nothing to deliver enough details I deem adequate to satisfy every one of my client's desires which in this scenario involve improvements toward my neighborhood park, hence why I am not embracing this project lightly.

Now that the problems have presented themselves, my objective has been elucidated: adjust the park's troubling scheme of mobilization and modify the park's shading to combat the blistering Southern California heat all the while conscious of my previous developments and observations identified in the preceding phases of design.


This park is too nice! Not too much to be said, because it is real nice.

Thank you TarHeels23. I cannot recall the number of hours invested into the pocket park's design, as well as the time spent organizing how I will reveal my developments. Any feedback is much appreciated, thank you TarHeels23!

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?


Modus's work for the Collect Information step:

Collected Info: The buildup of information regarding the design of my vicarious pocket park entry which will serve as a foundation I plan on using for catalyzing its structure.
1) Park Description :: Guidance, "A.1 Investigative skills: Ability to gather, assess, record...
2) Precise Location :: Guidance, "A.8 Cultural Diversity and Social Equity: Understanding of...
3) Description of Nearby Community :: Guidance, "B.2 Site Design: Ability to respond to site...
4) Surrounding Architecture :: Guidance, "A.4 Architectural Design Skills: Ability to...
5) Standards :: Guidance, "B.3 Codes and Regulations: Ability to design sites, facilities and...
6) Retrospect :: Guidance, "A.6 Use of Precedents: Ability to examine and comprehend the...
7) Inspiration :: Guidance, "A.2 Design Thinking Skills: Ability to raise clear and precise...

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?

Modus's work for the Brainstorm Ideas step:

A very inspirational quote by the famous Le Corbusier, "The camera is for idlers...
I've collected data regarding my city's solar trajectories all throughout the year. The...
As the ventures of architecture and all that it encompasses progresses forward into an...
This is a drawing I've completed to reveal what entities exist in the park prior to me...
I've drawn some structures I may incorporate into my final design. Inspired by the modern...
When studying park standards, I learned that logically positioned "buffer zones" can...
And now a scheme I am most passionately enthusiastic about, the concept of surreal design. In this...

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...)

Modus's work for the Develop Solutions step:

Here in the Develop Solutions phase, I will begin the process of piecing together sections of the park methodically.
In SketchUp Layout I drew both the general base format of the park and the boundaries I've...
I've drawn three different schemes all exploiting the recently established pathway concept....
In SketchUp Make I've undertaken the process of creating a quick, over-simplified test render...
In accordance with the selected scheme and the concept of a "Buffer Zone" acknowledged...
This is a visual aid designed in SketchUp Make to conceptualize the implementation of a new "...
Here are examples of different perspectives towards exactly how the recreational zone will be...
These are representations of structures that are intended to provide shade. These are heavily...

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!

Modus's work for the Final Design step:

At long last, the final details concerning the design of my entry have been solidified, thoroughly examined, and polished.
This perspective of my textured model is oriented towards representing the overall layout of the...
This angle of the park attempts to demonstrate the literal formatting of the surrounding terrain....
The final outcome (relative to my entry's permitted perimeter) has a total of eleven tables,...
"Antelope Hills Park" is home to a variety of flora. Included are three Fern Pine trees,...
A more intimate look within my finished model. The large amount of tables and proper shade makes...
Front view of the actual play zone. You can see the installment of a buffer zone on opposite ends...
The first photo displays a view from above the park, on Carlton Oaks St. Behind the play zone is...

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