Merit - Excellence in Landscape Architecture for General Design

Grinnell College

Kington Plaza and Christiansen Learning Spaces
Grinnell College - Kington Plaza and Christiansen Learning Spaces
Jury Comments
“. . . demonstrates sensitive understanding of the outdoor learning program and how it had to be distributed to function well and remain active . . . appreciate range of space types—truly something for everyone. . .”


    • Site – 3 acres
    • This is the first project constructed from the landscape master plan.
    • The quad is the new outdoor heart of campus life at the crossroads of two major academic buildings.
    • Conversation nooks with integrated electric provide smaller-scale meeting space.
    • Rooted in place, prairie-inspired plantings and collaboration spaces are plentiful.
    • Three double-sided chalkboards made with slate reclaimed from a demoed campus building activate outdoor learning nodes.
    • Hammocks are a playful addition adjacent to the central green.
    • Dynamic evening lighting showcases the campus landscape transformation.
    • Thoughtfully integrated art reflects campus culture and history.


The Kington Plaza and Christiansen Outdoor Learning Space is a 3-acre quadrangle at the heart of the Grinnell College campus. Before this project, the entirety of Grinnell’s campus comprised large, sprawling lawns with few outdoor spaces for socialization and learning. A sequence of outdoor classrooms designed in collaboration with students and professors extends the campus learning environment between the new Humanities and Social Studies Center and Noyce Science Center. Experiential nodes support lively student activity and quiet contemplation to create a supportive student experience. The landscape design embodies the spirit of academic freedom, a hallmark of Grinnell’s culture.

Grinnell is in Iowa’s tallgrass prairie region, defined by grasslands and expansive open spaces. The team embraced the prairie context, shifting from predominantly turf-grass manicured lawns to a prairie-inspired ground plane with dominant uses of switchgrass, prairie drop seed, and blue grama grass. Coneflower, oxeye sunflower, sumac, and aspen trees create seasonal diversity and spatial definition.

Everyone wanted an energetic and celebratory space where academic discourse and student life could thrive. For many faculty, taking a class outside is spontaneous and focused on enhancing student well-being. Teaching outdoors is intentionally planned as part of a curriculum for other courses. Students wanted gathering places for studying and collaborative projects. An inclusive design process created a landscape that profoundly reflects Grinnell’s community. To achieve this alignment, the design emphasizes accessibility and flexibility. Designers adjusted the size and distance between classrooms to ensure multiple classes could meet concurrently without distraction. The outdoor classrooms and social spaces are thoughtfully situated to draw energy from the adjacent buildings and to create connections to other areas of campus. The design reflects the broad themes of community, educational excellence, and health and well-being outlined in Grinnell’s strategic plan. Its impact on the student experience has been immediate and positive. Classes that regularly met inside can now quickly relocate outdoors.

Project Team

Ayers Saint Gross – Landscape Architect; CGA – Civil Engineer; MEP Associates – MEP Engineer; Confluence – Landscape Plantings