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Indian Springs School, Indian Springs, Alabama
A Landscape Laboratory with an Olmsted Brothers Heritage

CARBO Landscape Architecture, Baton Rouge; Architect of Record: ArchitectureWorks, LLC; Design Architect: Lake | Flato


At the Indian Springs School in Indian Springs, Alabama, the courtyard has 12"x 30" buffed colored concrete pavers in a running bond pattern. The smooth finish has an oil based sealer and grip-texture additive. The benches are gabion baskets with 6"-8" washed crushed blue/gray sandstone, capped by 4" thick precast concrete. The bridge decking is 1"x 6" composite wood in an earth tone color.

The newly renovated Indian Springs School campus in Indian Springs, Alabama is intended to better realize the school's original vision developed by the Olmsted brothers in the early 1950s. The new campus opens views to the existing lake, integrates the native landscape into the student experience and incorporates innovative stormwater management practices to mitigate drainage and lake water quality issues. Collectively, these aspects facilitate educational opportunities within the school's science, biology and botany curricula.


Runnels lined with locally sourced aggregate collect roof water at all building drip lines and convey it to the rain gardens nestled between the classrooms. These rain gardens detain and biologically filter the stormwater before slowly releasing it downstream to the lake.

"Learning through Living"
"Learning through Living" is the fundamental mission of Indian Springs School. This coeducational boarding school for grades 8-12 is an institution that believes innovative thinking, integrity and moral courage are best inspired by "not just what happens inside the classroom, but also, quite crucially, what happens outside of it." This philosophy of balanced learning was the guiding principle on which the new campus was developed.

Indian Springs School was the brainchild of M.I.T-educated industrialist Harvey Woodward. He envisioned "a school in his home state that would train young men for a lifetime of learning." It was on Mr. Woodward's picturesque estate that the school first opened its doors in 1952. The school commissioned the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm to create the school's first master plan in 1950. Note: The Olmsted Brothers' firm was established in 1898 by John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957)


The bridge over the rain gardens is steel framed and has custom concrete piers. The new school buildings are constructed of cast-in-place board-formed concrete, stained shiplap cypress siding and standing seam metal roofs.

The Olmsted Brothers' original concept reinforced the school's ideologies by emphasizing a community of smaller buildings with strong physical and visual connections to the site's 30-acre lake. Unfortunately, their master plan was never fully realized, and their vision was abandoned during campus expansions in the 1970s and 80s. New buildings were clustered tightly together and connections to the lake were disregarded.

The school embarked on a new master planning effort in 2013 with the architect. Common themes of nature-inspired learning and connections to the lake quickly emerged during those early design charrettes.



The new school buildings transition into an expansive Zoysia sod lawn (hydromulched with a Bermuda and Centipede seed mix) that overlooks the lake. The concrete risers create an amphitheater setting. The school makes use of this space for informal classroom activities.

In a posted blog ("Landscape: An Integral Part of a Springs Education"), Gareth Vaughn, the former head of school at Indian Springs School, wrote:
"Whether the charrette participant was a current student, an alumnus from 1960, or a former faculty member, the story was the same: Seeing the lake, being in the fresh air, changing classes by going outside, and not feeling "contained" in windowless interior corridors were all cited as essential aspects of life at Springs that needed to be both respected and reflected in any new construction."

This unanimous direction encouraged the school to interview CARBO Landscape Architecture of Baton Rouge. Although the school needed some reassurance to demonstrate the value of what landscape architects could bring to the table, Gareth Vaughn noted that the relationship between the design team and client "resulted in an amazing campus that affords our community members a memorable outside experience every day they come to school."

The master plan that was developed embraced the ideals and landscape ethic of the original Olmstead Brothers' plan, while addressing several other site issues. Prior to the campus renovation, the outdated buildings were oriented parallel to the lake, which blocked views and impeded the natural flow of stormwater. Drainage issues were mitigated by piping water from adjacent lawns, roads and parking areas directly into the lake, degrading the lake's water quality with sedimentation, algae blooms and invasive aquatics.


The newly renovated campus better realizes the school's original master plan developed by the Olmsted Brothers' firm in the early 1950s (but not fully realized), which emphasized smaller buildings with visual connections to the site's 30-acre lake.

The existing outdoor spaces had deemphasized pedestrian access. The new design team collaborated extensively on building placement. The decision was made to reorient the classrooms perpendicularly to the lake edge. This significant change established views to the lake from many parts of the campus, created dynamic outdoor spaces between the buildings, celebrated the beauty of the surrounding native landscape and promoted a more sustainable campus hydrology.

The new state-of-the-art classrooms draw their aesthetic inspiration from the surrounding landscape and incorporated natural materials and colors. Open-air corridors offer views to the lake and forest and provide a welcome respite between classes. Cast concrete pavers form a central pedestrian plaza that weaves through a native landscape, while rows of trees and gabion benches direct views to the lake. The plaza culminates into an expansive lawn overlooking the lake. Concrete risers in the lawn create an amphitheater that functions as an informal outdoor classrooms, and the lake edge, which was designated as a wetland, is carefully edited of non-native vegetation to fully-expose the lake views.


Maples proliferate on the campus: varieties include 'Autumn Blaze', 'October Glory', 'Glowing Embers' and Sugar maples. Other species on site are oaks, hornbeams, white fringe trees, holly, red buckeye, Loblolly pines; Silverbell, Mexican plums and Teddy Bear magnolias.

Innovative stormwater management strategies were used throughout the site to mitigate drainage issues and improve the lake's water quality. Runnels lined with local aggregate collect roof water at all building drip lines and convey it to several rain gardens nestled between the classrooms. These rain gardens detain and biologically filter the stormwater before slowly releasing it downstream to the lake. The gardens are also filled with native wetland plants in order to provide habitat for wildlife.

Bridges over the rain gardens facilitate student interaction and provide educational opportunities to learn about the various ecological and hydrological processes occurring. These "landscape laboratories" have even influenced the school's curriculum, as they are now offering classes focused on "sustainability in landscape design" and will use the rain gardens for their research.

The new Indian Springs campus fully realizes the goals of the master plan. The project is expected to receive LEED Silver certification.

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2018.

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September 18, 2019, 7:43 am PDT

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