This article focuses on designing and building a major exhibit at the Bella Italia-themed 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show, which took place on Mar. 1st through 8th, 2009. Hosted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), the annual event is the largest indoor flower show in the world—spread over 10 acres and attracting more than 250,000 visitors—and is an important venue for promoting new ideas for horticulture and landscape design (Levine and Rogers, 2003). This project was undertaken by the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture (LA/Hort), located at the Temple University Ambler (TUA) campus, which is also home to the Landscape Arboretum at TUA that is an integral part of LA/Hort. Temple University has a long history of participation in the Philadelphia Flower Show, dating back to the 1970s and garnering numerous awards. Funded with financial support from Temple University, these exhibits, in the educational category of the Philadelphia Flower Show, highlight a variety of historical, cultural, and environmental themes representing the scope, vision, and mission of LA/Hort.
Taking inspiration from Italian gardening and farming traditions, our exhibit embodied three critical aspects of LA/Hort: a long tradition of hands-on education, the integration of landscape design and horticulture, and the mission of advocating sustainability.
Increased student interest in sustainability coupled with societal awareness and the evolving public policy commitment to green design has intensified demands for greater involvement of design and horticulture schools in teaching and research related to sustainability. Degree and certificate programs focused on sustainability are beginning to emerge at a number of design and horticulture schools, pointing to the rapid acceptance and importance of the sustainability paradigm. Many institutions of higher learning are promoting a variety of “green” and “sustainable” initiatives in a race to become leaders and models of transforming education and drawing resources dedicated to new research and outreach. Temple University has adopted the United Nations' definition of sustainability as “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” to guide the work of its recently formed Office of Sustainability (Temple University, 2009). This entity is charged with implementing Temple University's goal to conserve resources, reduce our carbon footprint, support our ecosystems, and promote the use of regional resources. The Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit presented an opportunity to showcase and advance Temple University's commitment to sustainability in a very practical, easily accessible, and adaptable format.
Integrating disciplines is widely recognized as a highly desirable and effective teaching model that engenders holistic thinking and breaks down disciplinary boundaries. The interdisciplinary interaction of the LA/Hort programs for this project was critical to achieving our sustainability goals for the flower show. Klein (1990) defines interdisciplinary learning as the synthesis of two or more disciplines, establishing a new level of discourse and integration of knowledge. The term interdisciplinary is used variably as a concept, a methodology, a process, a way of knowing, and even a philosophy. It facilitates the development of enhanced critical thinking ability and metacognitive skills, and an understanding of the relationships among perspectives derived from different disciplines. Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching can increase students' motivation for learning and their level of engagement. In contrast to learning skills in isolation, when students participate in interdisciplinary experiences, they see the value of what they are learning and become more actively engaged (Resnick, 1989).
The hands-on aspect of developing the exhibit introduced students to the many challenges related to budgets, real deadlines, and the logistics of the construction process. Adding a hands-on or experiential learning component to the more traditional verbal and visual teaching techniques enhances overall educational quality and promotes professional development and competence. The quote “I hear and I forget – I see and I remember – I do and I understand,” attributed to Confucius, underscores the importance of experiential learning.
Our exhibit received awards from many prestigious organizations, testifying to our mission of conservation, environmental responsibility, and sustainability. This article offers insights for an effective interdisciplinary, hands-on teaching model in creating sustainable designs, with an understanding of its potential challenges. Based on a survey of the students, the article also includes lessons learned, as well as a sampling of public response to the exhibit.
Temple University 2009 Office of Sustainability: Creating a sustainable campus culture 1 June 2009 <http://www.temple.edu/sustainability/>.