How Can a Nature Center Increase Accessibility to the Outdoors?

Here’s a short summary of my project!

Reasons Behind My Project

The city I live in, Oakland California, has many large open spaces, including Joaquin Miller Park. This park has trails that wind through redwoods, oak forests, and meadows. However, I’ve noticed that the area is underutilised by Oakland residents. And like many urban areas, Oakland’s open spaces are used disproportionately by socioeconomically advantaged groups (Shanahana). The park is situated near wealthier neighborhoods, with poor accessibility to transportation and information. Time in nature is an important part of mental health and wellbeing, so I think that it’s important that every Oakland resident has access to this space (Shanahana). I decided to design a nature center that could promote the park and provide information, giving better access to all Oaklanders.


Joaquin Miller Park is known for its incredible redwoods. Image via:

My Design Process 

I began by considering the building’s purpose, users, and needs. I thought about how I needed to create a building that would attract people of all age groups, interests, and level of knowledge about the park. I also realized that in order to attract people to the building, I would need to create something aesthetically pleasing and welcome-feeling. The building would need to be functional as well as attractive. 

I then researched several different nature centers and similar structures all around the globe. I was particularly inspired by the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park Nature Center by DesignGroup in Galloway, Ohio. It had a large museum-like room to educate visitors, and a panoramic window that focused the visitor’s attention on the nature around them. You can see this building here:

There is a current nature center in Joaquin Miller Park, but it is a small, run-down building that’s almost never open. However, the building is located next to a major road with direct access to the park and great views of the Bay Area. I visited the location and decided that it would be the best place to put the new center.

I then began sketching ideas for the building. I looked at the project from different angles and used feedback from friends and peers to improve the design.

Finally, I used SketchUp, an online architecture software, to create 3D models of the designs.

I focused particularly on the entry room, because it most directly related to the building’s goal of accessibility to information .

I explain my design decisions in greater detail in this video:

Or you can see my full project in this doc:

For Now: Takeaways

Spending time in nature is an important part of mental health (“How Nature Benefits Mental Health”). It is also a great way to get exercise, understand the importance of conservation, and learn about a place’s history. A nature center could help connect this incredible resource to many Oakland residents, especially those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and often lack access to and information about the parks. The center could be a hub for school field trips, family outings, or visits with friends, providing all Oaklanders with necessary time in nature. While simply a nature center could not solve many of the city’s inequalities, I hope that it could help decrease access to nature based disparities between different groups of Oakland residents.

Thank you for reading!

City of Oakland | Joaquin Miller Park
Image via:


“How Nature Benefits Mental Health.”, 2018,

Shanahana, D.F., et al. “Socio-Economic Inequalities in Access to Nature on  Public and Private Lands: A Case Study from Brisbane, Australia.” Fuller Lab, 2014,

Share this project
  1. April 21, 2020 by Lucy Karem

    Great work! I really enjoyed learning and reading about your project!

  2. April 24, 2020 by Samantha

    This is awesome! I especially appreciated that you took into consideration the needs of all age groups, because I believe it’s super important to teach kids about the outdoors and also how to respect nature. Great job!

  3. April 24, 2020 by Mathieu Leclerre

    Your project really speaks to me because i’m a nature person and I love the ideas you’ve come up with. Your final design is very well done, it’s original, it’s special, and overall looks aesthetically pleasing. The design definitely fulfills the purpose you’ve given it.

  4. April 25, 2020 by Taggert Smith

    Hi Ella, this project is so important because time spent in nature is key to our mental and physical health (especially nowadays considering not only our generation’s overall focus on technology but also current events), and should be accessible for everyone. I see some parallel struggles and ideas to my own project, in that you have to focus on education and sending a message while also creating an aesthetically attractive space that invites as many visitors as possible. I think you’ve done a great job in both those aspects, via the inclusion of elements like the museum and the “underwater skylight”, which I had never heard of before.

  5. April 25, 2020 by Michelle Zhang

    Hi Ella! This is a really well thought-out project, and I love the idea of creating a nature center in Oakland. Looking at your designs makes me want to go there! Great job on this.

  6. April 25, 2020 by Jena Thorne

    This is beautiful Ella! This is such an important project, and something I honestly never gave much thought to. But it’s true, that many communities in Oakland do not have much access to spaces like Joaquin Miller, so I think this is an incredible model!

  7. April 26, 2020 by Cole

    Great job Ella! I like how you deeply explained the process you took to come to your final design. What was also cool was how your sketchup model showed how it would look immersed in nature, an interesting touch that I hadn’t seen from many other people. You also showed the flow of people’s movement through the building. I also liked your various video explanations.

  8. April 26, 2020 by Caroline

    I think that you did a really good job thinking about your project. I think your illustrations are really great for what you are trying to achieve. I also like how you visited the location in person in order to really see what was out there. There is so much about a site that you can miss when you only look at maps or results from an image search!

  9. April 26, 2020 by kalissa f

    This is great! I love the nature center blends into the red oak forest without disrupting the nature that already lives there. I’ve been to many nature centers and they really enhance my experience at a park after learning all about it. Good job!

  10. April 27, 2020 by Farah

    I enjoy the detail in this project, especially your explanation on your design process. It is clear that you had a vision and went through it.
    Overall, you did a fantastic job!


  11. April 27, 2020 by Austin Jones

    Ella, your skills on SketchUp are really impressive, and I love that you included the landscape in addition to the building in your models, because it reminds the viewer that this building is all about celebrating nature and getting people to spend time outside. You’ve obviously put a lot of thought and effort into every step of this process, and it has really paid off!

  12. April 27, 2020 by Derek Foyt

    Hi Ella! Great sketches and sketchup models. Overall your work shows great throughs and execution. Something that I noticed is you are very skilled in getting your thoughts out on paper and then into a model. Your sketches showed colors, layouts, and views then you did a great job about moving it into a model. I really enjoy how much you are relying on nature as well. With glass and trees you give the chance for people to lose the thought of themselves being inside!

  13. April 28, 2020 by Kaz Miura

    Hi Ella, I think that this is a very important topic, and you took it in very nicely! I’m a big nature guy myself, and living in the city isn’t the best thing as I like the beach and big forests. Your nature center seems to be a very nicely drawn out solution to this, and I think that you created a very nice piece of architecture. Nice job!

  14. April 28, 2020 by Blaine

    Your project tackles an issue which I’m very invested in. You definitely succeeded in creating a welcoming, beautiful building. Your design seems to be well adapted to the specific site you chose. Good job!

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