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RoTo + Max Underwood, Spring Studio 2020

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Advanced Architectural Studio

Ramsey Canyon


"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."

Albert Einstein


This spring we will be working with The Nature Conservancy, envisioning the future of Ramsey Canyon, Arizona.


The Nature Conservancy was founded in 1951 by a group of visionary scientists and concerned citizens who wanted to take direct action to save threatened natural areas around the world, and established the Land Preservation Fund: a conservation tool to provide funding for its conservation efforts.


The Nature Conservancy’s mission "is to conserve the land and waters on which all life depends. Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.”


Today, The Nature Conservancy is has grown to become one of the most effective global environmental nonprofits impacting Nature and our lives.  The Nature Conservancy joins forces with governments, non-profit organizations, local stakeholders, indigenous communities, corporate partners, and international organizations to find solutions to conservation challenges. Their conservation tactics include the protection of private lands, the creation of conservation-minded public policies, and the funding of conservation projects around the world.  Thanks to more than a million members and the dedicated efforts of our diverse staff and more than 400 scientists, we impact conservation in 79 countries and territories across six continents, protecting over 125 million acres of land.


"You master Nature not by force but by understanding."

Jacob Bronowski"The Creative Mind," in Science and Human Values (1956).


Ramsey Canyon

“Southeastern Arizona is a special place where several ecosystems merge together,” as local Nature photographer Al Anderson describes. “The Sierra Madre and Rocky mountains meet here and extend rocky fingers into each other’s territory. The Sonora and Chihuahua deserts intertwine around the base of these ranges, isolating them from each other to create “sky islands” of unique habitat.  The Huachuca mountains which kiss the international border between Mexico and the United States are one of these sky islands. and there you’ll find Ramsey Canyon, a very unique place that due to its geology and geography plays host to some of the most diverse wildlife in the Arizona.  Wildlife is the number-one attraction in Ramsey Canyon. Visitors from all over the world come to see the 170+ species of birds found in the canyon and surrounding National forest. Southwestern specialties such as painted redstarts and magnificent hummingbirds share the canyon with many other animals, including mountain lions, canyon tree frogs, four species of rattlesnakes, and dozens of species of butterflies. The canyon is also home to more than 400 species of plants, from tiny mosses to towering firs.


The Huachuca Mountains are also part of the Upper San Pedro River Basin, one of the few rivers that flow South to North. It provides a corridor for wildlife to flow from the tropics of Mexico to the Apache Highlands in Arizona. Coatis are common here and we even see the occasional Spotted Ocelot and Jaguar.


Native Americans were the first to settle in Ramsey Canyon. The Pueblo, Ootam, Sobaipuri, and Apache all lived here. By 1890 the Apache were gone, driven out by the increasing number of white men settling the area. The canyon is named after Gardner Ramsey and his family who were the canyon’s first white settlers, Though primarily a farmer, Ramsey made most of his money by creating a 2.5 mile toll road into the upper reaches of the canyon which provided easy access to the mining town of Hamburg. Mining activity around Hamburg persisted until about 1915 during which time the canyon population peaked between 42 to 100 residents. Into this busy and boisterous area there arrived in 1884 a wounded civil war veteran named William Berner who was seeking peace and solitude. He started a hotel which first served the miners and then catered to those interested in the serenity, tranquility, and natural beauty that the canyon offered.


Unfortunately, serenity and tranquility proved to be elusive goals within the canyon, which was anything but peaceful, until decades later after Berner’s family bequeathed half of Berner’s holdings to his good friend and doctor, Nelson C. Bledsoe as compensation for Berner’s medical care during the latter years of his life. Bledsoe and his wife, Harriet, loved their peace and solitude and eventually got it as they slowly purchased each expired canyon lease over several decades until they eventually owned all of the upper canyon.


There are other major contributors to the canyon’s history, like John James, Tom St. John, and Judy Simpson. It was  Carol and Joan Peabody who’s efforts led to Ramsey Canyon being declared the first National Natural Landmark by the US National Park Service in 1965.


When Dr. Bledsoe died in 1975, he left his 280 acres in the canyon to The Nature Conservancy, who also purchased an additional 20 acres owned by the Peabody’s. The entire upper canyon is now owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy as an area to be used for scientific, educational and aesthetic purposes “without any disturbance whatever of habitat, plant, or animal populations,” per the terms set forth in Dr. Bledsoe’s will.”


"The best way to preserve Nature is to ensure that people experience it."

Peter Wohlleben, The Secret Wisdom of Nature



As you read in our syllabus, our sequence of studio investigations are organized as an living ecology of observations, questions, speculations, and discoveries of Nature, Conservancy, and Architecture at multiple scales evolving throughout time.  From the outset, you have been asked to engage and address The Nature Conservancy’s mission + vision, Ramsey Canyon’s opportunities, pressing problems, and its future.


Building upon your discoveries in our first project, Ramsey Canyon in 2070, it is time to focus on the next scale of investigation: the future evolution and stewardship of the Ramsey Canyon ecosystem.


In this 3 part project you will be asked to design the following:


1) Ramsey Canyon board game

Please design a board game whose play is both fun and reveals Ramsey Canyon Preserve’s hidden secrets, the unique community of organisms, environments, and interrelationships which define the future evolution and stewardship of the Ramsey Canyon ecosystem.  A game is a form of play and deep learning with a challenge, goals, rules, and structured interactions.  A board game can be defined as “a tabletop game that involves counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or board, according to a set of rules.  Some board games are based on pure strategy, but many contain an element of chance; and some are purely chance, with no element of skill.”   


2) Ramsey Canyon Preserve Interpretive plan

“What is at stake is not only the relations of Nature, but also the nature of relations.”

Robert Macfarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey 2019.


Next, please design an Interpretative plan whose unfolding experiences are both fun and reveal Ramsey Canyon Preserve’s hidden secrets, the unique community of organisms, environments, and interrelationships which define the future evolution and stewardship of the Ramsey Canyon ecosystem.

The National Association on Interpretation defines, Interpretive planning as "an initial step in the planning and design process for informal learning-based institutions like museums, zoos, science centers, nature centers, botanical gardens, heritage sites, parks and other cultural facilities where interpretation is used to communicate messages, stories, information and experiences.   It is a decision-making process that blends management needs and resource considerations with visitor needs and desires to determine the most effective way to communicate a message to a targeted audience.


Interpretation at informal learning institutions builds on Freeman Tilden’s principles of interpretation, focusing especially on relating content in a meaningful way to a visitor’s own experience, provoking emotion, thought or further inquiry into a subject (see Interpreting our Heritage, 1957).  

The communication goals of interpretation at mission-based institutions are based on achieving previously specified outcomes.  Most interpretive plans are based on a thematic approach to interpretation, and therefore, place emphasis on which themes are important to communicate to various audiences.  Interpretive planning may also guide how audiences will react to and interact with a particular site or exhibit.


An interpretive plan establishes these specific goals for an institution’s market/s and builds a structured vision of how to achieve them by communicating to an audience through appropriate and meaningful experiences. It combines developing, organizing and analyzing content into relevant and engaging messages, with creating exciting ways for visitors to experience this content.  An interpretive plan establishes the communication process, through which meanings and relationships of the cultural and natural world, past and present, are revealed to a visitor through experiences with objects, artifacts, landscapes, sites, exhibits and people.


To effectively engage a visitor and achieve these objectives, as well as any other institutional objectives and requirements (financial, operational, environmental, etc.), an interpretive plan is created through addressing the following 10 key issues:


1.  Why do you want to interpret something?

2.  Who should be involved in the interpretive process?

3.  What are you interpreting?

4.  Who you are interpreting for?

5.  What messages do you want to communicate?

6.  What are your specific objectives?

7.  What media will you use?

8.  How will your interpretation be implemented?

9.  How will it be evaluated?

10.How will it be maintained?


The resulting Interpretive plan provides a vision for the future of interpretation, education, and visitor experience opportunities. It identifies and analyzes interpretation, education, and visitor experience goals and issues and recommends the most effective, efficient, and practical ways to address those goals and issues. The plan guides the further design and development of the project, becoming a resource for architecture, exhibit development and fundraising.”


We would like you to present your interpretative plan, using an annotated photomontage storyboard keyed to a site plan, showing the key Interpretive moments in a day-in-the-life of Ramsey Canyon over  the four seasons.  Be sure to clearly show the unique community of organisms, environments and interrelationships which define the future evolution and stewardship of the Ramsey Canyon ecosystem.


3) Comprehensive phased master plan

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is not path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Finally, please design a comprehensive phased masterplan, which takes a long-range evolutionary approach to your interpretive plan, and is intended to help guide The Nature Conservancy and Ramsey Canyon staff toward realizing your interpretive plan vision for Ramsey Canyon.


A comprehensive phased masterplan provides a systemic ecological vision, greater background and context, while analyzing existing conditions and looking at constraints and new opportunities for expanding interpretation and meeting habitat, wildlife, and visitor needs as they evolve over time.


Your masterplan should offer recommendations for facilities, media and programs, with objectives and strategies that are in line with the Nature Conservancy and Ramsey Canyon Preserve’s mission, goals and guidelines. 


As you research and develop your comprehensive phased masterplan in drawings and models keeping in mind two things:  always show all the key elements, systems, interrelationships, and their evolution over time (ie over the four seasons, growth/decay, etc).

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