February 20, 2024

Four Winners Announced for 2024 Backcountry Casitas Design Competition at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden 


New “Nature Playhouses” to be Installed in Spring and Fall 2024   

Santa Barbara, Calif. – February 20, 2024 – Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has chosen four winners of its 2024 Backcountry Casitas competition, which is for designs of temporary and unique outdoor playhouses located in the Garden’s Backcountry area. One casita will be installed and open to the public in June 2024 and the remaining three in fall, replacing those installed in 2022.
The winning designs came from three local designers and one designer from the Los Angeles area. Selection criteria included creativity, imagination, and environmentally-conscious design; creative use of materials; and relation to the Garden’s mission of fostering conservation of native plants, among others. 
They include a “Poet’s Perch” homage to the late Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, activist and teacher Sojourner Kincaid Rolle; a whorl-shaped “Snail’s Shell” asking us to examine our relationship with invasive species; a colorful display of “Spinning Petals” inspired by the wind; and a “Woodrat Theater” for visitors to gather and tell stories. “Spinning Petals” will open to the public June 7, 2024. The remaining three Casitas will be installed in late Summer, with “Poet’s Perch” opening August 9, “Woodrat Theatre” opening August 30, and “Snail Shell” opening September 6. 
“The casitas are intended to have a two-year lifespan,” says Scot Pipkin, Garden director of education. “Our yearly Casitas Contest offers our community the opportunity to bring their creativity to the Garden in service of inspiring our next generation of stewards. This year’s winning designs serve as portals to a deeper connection with the natural world and invite visitors to interact with nature in fun and refreshing ways that the whole family can enjoy.”

The Poet’s Perch

Homage to Sojourner Kincaid Rolle | Colleen M. Kelly, Santa Barbara

An inverted tree trunk, its branches planted in the ground, creates a space to contemplate, reflect, write, and feel encompassed by the natural world. Colorfully painted “poet’s staffs” evoke the late Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, a Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, activist and teacher, for whom the casitas is dedicated. Kelly is a Santa Barbara artist who has had collaborative exhibitions with poets. Her iron sculptures of kelp are installed at Santa Barbara Airport. “Sojourner was truly a gift to the community of Santa Barbara and this, in a very small way, would be a recognition of her life of service and dedication, and of her immense talents,” says Kelly. 

The Snail Shell

Jessica Altstatt, Goleta  

A shell structure, based upon the whorls of threatened native land and aquatic snails, highlights the threat from introduced plants and snails, such as the apple snail, to local ecosystems. Constructed from bundles of invasive giant reeds, elephant grass (Arundo donax), it features an arched portico that produces an intimate space for visitors. “The construction is based upon traditional methods of working with grasses, but with a fanciful twist,” says Altstatt, a marine scientist who coordinates the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s LiMPETS program, an environmental monitoring and education program. 

Spinning Petals

Robyn Coburn of Iggy Jingle Crafts, Los Angeles

The wind has inspired Coburn’s dynamic collection of freestanding fabric structures based on the shapes of petals or leaves of various sizes painted in bright natural colors to stand out against the green and earthen tones of the site. They rotate and react in response to the wind and to manual manipulation by visitors. The center of the space incorporates available log and stone to suggest a table and chairs and act as a climbing structure. “I also incorporate text into some of the surfaces, particularly the lovely Latin names of the inspiration plants, to encourage users to investigate these names,” says Coburn, a Los Angeles based writer and artist with a background in film and theater.

Woodrat Theatre

Adrienne De Guevara, Patrick Melroy, and Sean O’Brien, Ph.D., of MISC Workshop, Santa Barbara  

“We want to make a space filled with objects that entice young minds to bubble over with story,” says Melroy. “A woodrat’s home is as much their shelter and home, as it is a collection representing narratives of their travels.” The circular wooden structure features a tiny stage on one side, low seating on the other. River rocks and wood rounds placed in the space are etched with pictographs of native plants and symbols inferring actions, allowing the visitor to build a narrative. From the tiny stage the visitor can present their story or attempt to decipher the remnants of a previous user’s arrangement. The design team is from Santa Barbara’s MISC Workshop, which is dedicated to the creation of interactive public art. 

About Backcountry

Opened in June 2022, Backcountry is an immersive garden where young people (and the young at heart) can climb, jump, run, explore, play, and connect with nature. Encompassing over 4-acres west of Mission Creek, it features inviting and distinct areas designed to inspire unstructured, self-directed nature experiences. The Garden’s newest space is designed for all to enjoy but is focused on kids aged five to 13 years old. For more information, visit https://sbbotanicgarden.org/explore/sections/backcountry/.


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