Conceived as a public space that educates, the EarthLab is dedicated to experiential environmental learning supported by a variety of outdoor exhibits, that transform a San Diego Unified School District-owned 4 acre site into a unique open-air environmental classroom. As EarthLab develops in the next years, it will increase its capacity to serve as a resource for the 6 public schools within walking distance of the site, promoting experiments in K-12 informal learning through experiential environmental literacy, and participatory climate action through community engagement, and how these intersect with advances in new energy technologies.

These four acres of open space contain the four habitats that characterize our region: riparian, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and oak woodland. This makes Earthlab the first Climate Action Park of its kind, an ideal living laboratory for emerging young environmental professionals, inspiring the diverse residents of the Encanto neighborhoods that surround it to be stewards of their own environment and the future planning of their communities.

Community Design Process

The EarthLab Master plan illustrates what can happen when a grass-roots environmental non-profit (Groundwork SD) in a disadvantaged community, a local school district (San Diego Unified School District and a research university (UC San Diego) partner to co-develop a new type of educational public space.

With the support of the Surdna Foundation, Groundwork and UC San Diego mobilized a unique community design process to envision the Earthlab programmatic and physical masterplan. GWSD summoned diverse demographic groups across the Encanto neighborhoods, including community leaders, area residents, school teachers, businesses, faith-based institutions. These meetings produced the the initial imagination and aspiration to establish the programmatic composition of The EarthLab Masterplan, the specific learning objectives and pedagogical strategies, as well as the physical environments and exhibits to support these programs and activities.

The EarthLab Masterplan participatory design process included a series of workshops with school leaders, educators, children and their families, industry representatives and design professionals to brainstorm preliminary design concepts. The EarthLab has been designed by leading informal science educators, climate action scientists, museum designers, architects and landscape architects.


As a public space that educates, the EarthLab master plan calls for the installation of six main educational exhibits (activity stations) informed by food / water / energy topics under the overarching theme of climate action and organized through principles of indigenous practices. These exhibits are designed to support formal and informal learning modules at the EarthLab, and will elevate Groundwork’s theory of learning, as a model for other science educators seeking to integrate in-door (methodological) and out-door (experiential) learning. Specifically, these exhibits are designed with supporting tools, environments and playgrounds to guide students and users to: ask questions, define problems, plan and carry out investigations, analyze and interpret data, construct and explain experiences, develop and use replicable models, and design solutions to challenges that climate change excerpts in their environment.

All exhibits are designed as interactive-environments, flexible and adaptable spaces where different types of experiential educational activities (technology-conservation-culture) can co-exist, linking play and knowledge. Flexibility of use and adaptation is important so that even without direct guidance, visitors will engage with this energy knowledge through self-play and interaction. An important aspect of the exhibits is that all of them have been designed to facilitate their reproduction in minature when students are back in their classrooms. Their formal attributes, geometric patterns, shapes and materials, etc., inform educational design tools and experiments that enable teachers to elaborate on the data that students have collected out-doors. The main design features of each of these exhibits / environments are described below: