Rachel Legg, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design (BDes ’23), spent most of her final semester on the playground. Legg’s senior capstone project focused on designing a mural for the playground of Liberty Elementary in Pittsburgh, PA. The court design, which was based off of drawings from students at the school, creates a modular design to elevate joy, foster imagination, and inspire play.
“Both art and sports have been huge outlets in my life and for my capstone I wanted to create something that combines these two passions,” said Legg. “I initially was thinking about the growth of women's sports, how to motivate young girls to be active and play, and was inspired by painted court designs and how these activate spaces to bring joy to sport and play. There are so many benefits to being active, both for physical and mental health.”
Legg discussed her idea with Associate Professor Dylan Vitone and Assistant Teaching Professor Brett Yasko about painting a court design for a playground when Vitone mentioned that the school his children attend, Liberty Elementary, would be the ideal candidate.
Legg’s design process began with interviewing and building relationships with the community at the school and working with the students on what an ideal court would look like.
“I wanted this design to reflect the voices of the students so I created a drawing activity for them to imagine and draw their dream recess court,” said Legg. “ First, I was a little nervous, but the kids were so friendly and very excited to have a ‘special visitor’. I went through a brief presentation to explain the project, show them some court painting examples to spark their imagination and interest, and explain/pass out the drawing activity I was going to have them do. It felt really good to explain the project and see their eyes light up at examples of the court paintings. At the end of the presentations, I would ask if there were any questions and so many hands would shoot into the air.”
After Legg’s initial meetings with the students, she implemented a two-day drawing activity, where students presented her with their ideal playground court designs.
“It was fun to come back the next day and have students recognize me in the hallway and excitedly wave,” said Legg. “I also was able to observe some recesses later on and get a sense for how they use the space. Working with the students was great and definitely helped me get to know them better and prioritize how to reflect them into the design.”
The drawings Legg received from students were full of bright colors, amusing shapes and entertaining characters.
“All of the drawings were so amazing and brought all different elements and voices,” continued Legg. “It was a big source of inspiration for how imagination can transform these shapes into different games, different imaginative environments, or different characters. These drawings are so positive and really embody what Liberty Elementary stands for. They are the ‘eagles’ and so many of the drawings had an eagle, reflecting a strong school spirit.”
After deciding on a final design, Legg along with Vitone, Yasko, and a team of volunteers, took to the court of Liberty Elementary and painted her design across the span of two days.
“I hope the Liberty students and neighborhood children will be able to follow painted paths, define their own games, and let them interact with their play space in a new way,” said Legg.
“We worked hard and my legs still hurt, but I know that day will stay with Rachel for a long time,” said Yasko. “It will stay with me, too. It went beyond fulfilling a class assignment. The way she worked with the school’s community and gave them ownership. The way her friends showed up to help. The amazing way the kids ran out to it and immediately started engaging with it. It’s the ultimate in what design is and can be."
“It has been so fun to watch Rachel go through this journey,” said Vitone. “She inserted herself in a community and worked with the children of Liberty Elementary to envision a better place to play. It was not theoretical or photoshopped. It was real people working together to make a really beautiful thing. I was also so impressed by how the principal, teachers and students at Liberty Elementary welcomed Rachel with open arms.
“We all want to have an impact in this world and Rachel did that,” continued Vitone. “Beyond making something that will brighten up the days of hundreds of kids I truly think she brought together our senior class by allowing us to come together and paint it. Painting it together was such a magical way to spend one of the last Fridays of their senior year.”
Legg will be spending her summer as a design intern at Dimensional Innovations.
“I love spatial design and thinking about how to create meaningful experiences for people,” said Legg. “I hope to be an experience designer that builds concepts for how to activate space with physical and digital interactions and visuals.
“Above all I want to create moments to make people's lives a little bit better.”
Judging by the kids' reaction, the School of Design thinks Rachel has already done exactly that.