Iowa landscape architecture students bring a touch of green behind bars

City Terrain Landscape Architecture Midwest
Outdoor classrooms under construction at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women. (Landscape Architecture Magazine / Bob Elbert)

Outdoor classrooms under construction at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women. (Landscape Architecture Magazine / Bob Elbert)

Thanks to a new student-led effort, green is no longer just the color of the year, it’s also the new orange. When the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville embarked on a $68 million expansion three years ago, the plan set aside no money for landscape design. But a collaboration between five landscape architecture students from Iowa State University and eight offenders is bringing a touch of green behind bars.

Landscape Architecture Magazine reported that the design process, orchestrated by Iowa State professor Julie Stevens, produced plans for an aspen grove and an outdoor classroom in the sloped land between the prison’s new buildings. Students and inmates worked with masonry and earth (under strict supervision) to build it.

Patti Wachtendorf, the prison’s warden, said in the November issue that the project should serve as a model:

“The students got to have a more realistic view of offenders,” she says. “They got to see them as human beings. So someday, if they have an application from someone [who served time in prison], they won’t just throw it away.”

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