Growing up in Mexico, Monserrat Fonseca remembers wandering through fields of corn on her grandfather’s farm.
“We’d take a trek through the farm and go into the corn fields. The corn stalks grew so tall around us, it was so amazing. They were much taller than I was at the time,” Fonseca said. “I can still kind of smell it.”
Now in her last year as a master’s candidate in the School of Architecture at Portland State University, she believes her experience immersed in nature as a girl is a key to solving the nature gap: the lost sense of connection with nature that exacerbates a variety of problems for young children learning how to navigate the world.
“The goal is to have kids learn about gardening and how to harvest food to cook and feed themselves. I'm really wanting to incorporate a connection with nature,” Fonseca said. She calls the project the Living Education Center, and intends to serve students in kindergarten to eighth grade.
By returning nature to a place of importance in the design of a school—in the sense of its architecture and its programs, what students actually learn—Fonseca believes she can address health issues like diabetes, social problems like bullying, food insecurity, perhaps even instill the kind of empathy for life that would restore nature to a place of respect.
“I feel like a lot of that comes through a loss of that sense of connection and a sense of bonding with animals can help them calm themselves,” Fonseca said.
To restore the connection with nature, Fonseca will rely on biomimicry and biophilia to inform her design. Biomimicry will inspire her structure—like the shape of a leaf or the shell of an armadillo. “Biophilia design is more focused in terms of mental health design and wellness,” Fonseca said. “So it's getting incorporated natural light or green space, making sure that there's plenty of green space in those natural elements.”
Monserrat Fonseca is a Master of Architecture candidate at the Portland State University School of Architecture. This is her final year.