Pathways Plaza: An Innovative Outdoor Learning Space That Blends History, Culture, and Technology

Pathways Plaza: An Innovative Outdoor Learning Space That Blends History, Culture, and Technology

The “Pathways Plaza” at Littleton CTE in Littleton, Colorado is an exciting, one-of-a-kind outdoor learning environment that inspires students to envision new possibilities for their personal growth by engaging in the exploration of multiple career paths. The environment juxtaposes history and culture with emerging technologies to challenge students and the community to shape new ideas for the future.

Connections to site and history

Through the plaza, subtle design features recall the site’s history, grounding Littleton CTE with a unique sense of place. The plaza’s ‘checkerboard’ patterned ground cover is inspired by the former agricultural fields and helps organize the various outdoor rooms into individual program needs. Meanwhile, an integrated water feature provides fun, interactivity while also recalling the area’s history via it’s placement in the path where a natural stream once existed on the site.

The plaza is also cleverly integrated into the surrounding natural landscape. An overhead canopy structure that supports learning activities in the plaza also boasts arrays of solar panels connected to a wall display of battery storage — providing both supplemental power to the site, as well as partial protection from the sun. Overhead lighting extends the use of plaza into the evening hours for community use. The undulating landscaped berm to the south provides a more natural environment for students and staff to socialize and gather. Tiered bench seating supports outdoor classes and pop-up performances, and the curvilinear forms is a welcome contrast to the ‘checkerboard’ geometry of the plaza.

Site as a teaching tool

Throughout the site, there are opportunities to showcase and educate on sustainable techniques, including locally resourced or recycled materials, climate sensitive/native plant species that contribute to the re-establishment of natural habitats and require less volume of water and maintenance, more permeable surfaces, greenhouse or farm-to-table program techniques, and potential use of stormwater run-off recycle systems, etc.

Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility  

The plaza will also include several outdoor learning rooms that adapt to the needs of each individual program and serve as community spaces to showcase technology advancements or cultural celebrations. A dedicated outdoor construction yard is located directly adjacent to the ‘Trades’ program in the building and supports the construction and assembly of tiny homes and other projects that may address the needs of the Littleton community. Materials can easily move in and out through garage doors, and the use of power tools is facilitated by a robust infrastructure of power and air located in the overhead structure and partial height walls.

Multiple outdoor classroom areas are defined by partial height wall elements that can be used and scheduled for both traditional and non-traditional courses in the Computer Science and Entrepreneurship Pathways, and the Healthcare Pathway uses the undulating landscape berm for well-being activities as well as EMT scenarios. The Entrepreneurship Pathway also uses the bermed seating areas for pitch presentations. An outdoor robotics challenge arena is provided immediately adjacent to the Aerospace Pathway, as well as a drone racing course which is set up through the plaza’s overhead structure. Regional events are held on a regular basis which are attended by hundreds of fans, both in person and virtually. 

Finally, the Natural Resources Pathway uses the water feature in the plaza to study storm water management and flow dynamics, monitor the performance of the solar array, and tends to the growth and health of the landscape eco-system of the plaza.