Ask any Aquidneck Islander to lead you on a hike through the Norman Bird Sanctuary, and they could probably do it with their eyes closed. The 325 acre nature preserve is nestled just behind Second and Third beaches, and together with the adjacent Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge forms the wild, green, coastal heart of Middletown, RI.
I recently traveled back to this favorite place with a view towards heading indoors, for once. Generations of island children have benefitted from the sanctuary’s environmentally oriented summer camp and school programing, and I wanted to document the interior spaces that facilitate this learning.
The classrooms pictured sit on the edge of a terrain that is primed for discovery, and they act as a base and a refuge to campers and school groups. I like to imagine them on a summer morning, suddenly filling with a rush of campers who march purposefully towards their cubbies to stow their lunches away. Or I think about them on a day when a sudden rainstorm springs up, and the sound of the screen door swinging open and closed mixes with the noisy drips off the sloping roof, while children are busy visiting with the resident bunnies, or working on art projects while they wait out the storm.
I’m particularly excited, and grateful, to be kicking off a documentary project that has been years in the incubator with this shoot at NBS. For some time, I have been compiling a list of places that, in my opinion, exemplify the ability of design to meet a variety of human needs. While most of these spaces also happen to be incredibly beautiful, I am not interested in lauding perfection. Instead, I hope to explore how we as humans synthesize need, parameters, ideas, dreams, values, emotions, traditions and personalities into our material surroundings, and how a successful incorporation of these goals can, in the end, result in a beautiful space. Equally fascinating to me is how our surroundings, in turn, have the capacity to shape, support and inform us as individuals. I can’t wait to show you more of the inspiring interior worlds that I’ve encountered in my life and travels. Stay tuned!
A big thank you to the folks at the Norman Bird Sanctuary for their help with this shoot, especially Executive Director Natasha Harrison.
Architecture by Michele Foster of Foster Associates
Construction by J. G. Edwards Construction Co.
Steph Penn December 18, 2018
Wonderful series of images. Really looking forward to seeing more from this project!