Program and Introduction

The urban detention/retention basin is a culmination of all the projects in Mill Creek. It deals directly with the Mill Creek watershed itself. I am designing an outdoor classroom/retention pond to help slow down and clean the rainwater and surface water before it empties into the sewers and overflows into the Schuylkyll River.

My first concept for this "outdoor classroom" was brought about by really looking around me. I felt that to bring anything too foreign into the area would be disrespectful. I wanted to be able to use existing materials from the site and to try to make the classroom an integral part of the Mill Creek Neighborhood. My first concept sketch led me to explore the process of weathering and change. I have actually used this process in my choices for some of the materials I used for building. For example, brick, marble and the copper bowl. All of these materials weather and change.

Site Information

The site map shows the location of the water park. The location immediately adjacent to Sultzberger Middle School allows the children access to the classroom, as well as the opportunity for them to be continuously involved.


The classroom is designed for children in all of Philadelphia and surrounding areas to come and spend a day studying an urban watershed, the retention of water, it's movement and natural purification procedures. The classroom is enclosed, with an building that holds about 30-35 children for days of inclement weather and classroom projects. Although, rainy days are the best for this type of place!
The classroom facility is open to more than just the Mill Creek area to guarantee outside funding for maintenance and upkeep. Because it is adjacent to the Middle School, the Sulzberger students ,teachers, and local residents will be crucial in helping to establish the program.

Collecting Water

The site is adjacent to the Sulzberger Middle School and the playground north of this. Directly to the east is an abandoned lot. This is where the classroom itself is. The basin takes water from the roofs of the surrounding homes as well as the surface groundwater runoff from rain.

Building, Basin, and Plaza

The outdoor water classroom is made of three major parts: the building, the detention basin/classroom, and the main plaza.


The building, as aforementioned, holds about 30-35 children. Because the children will be attending the facility as a whole day trip, this guarantees that weather may not be a factor in changing plans. The children can study indoors, and because the classroom is placed at the highest elevation in the facility, they can watch water moving from inside. This also guarantees them a place to eat and get warm.


The detention basin/classroom is at the east end of the facility. It is a living classroom in some aspects. There is a sand bottom, mixed with different sized stones, up to large boulders. There are water tolerant trees such as Alder and Red Maple. There are also grasses and other aquatic plants organized in clumps. The children are able to move the sand and stones around and watch the different speeds that water moves, as well as the different paths it takes. The bottom of this basin is hard clay, so that the water moves into the sand, but technically overland to fall into the retention pond at the base of the site. The sand also maintains the traces of the last water to move across it.


The main plaza is an open site of two layers. It can be used as a dining shelter, a lecture room and for setting up an experimental station. Running along the wall to the higher level of the plaza is a water feature made out of copper and highly polished marble, which is activated when it rains. The water is caught in the copper bowl and moves down a gutter, eventually running into the detention classroom. The polished marble resembles moving water and so there is a trace of the water even when it is not there.

This section is cut from the end of the plaza down into the start of the detention pond. It shows a cut along the detention basin and the catwalk.
Click here to see a detail drawing of this.