Hands-on Activity: Designing a Winning Guest Village in Saguaro National Park

Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

This is an image of Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park
Guest Quarters in Yellowstone National Park
Copyright © http://www.flickr.com/photos/domc/34833661/ Flickr Creative Commons


The Challenge Question of the Legacy Cycle draws students into considering the engineering ingenuity of nature. It forces them to analyze, appreciate and understand the wisdom of these designs as teams focus on meeting each of the challenge's requirements. Student groups are asked to envision a sustainable design for a future guest village within the Saguaro National Park, outside of Tucson, AZ. What issues need to be addressed to support the comforts of park visitors without compromising the natural resources or endangering the endemic species of the area? A deeper scope of application reveals extensions of this design in the incorporation of urban planning and systems design. It also strengthens the concept of manufacturing and building without producing waste or pollution.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

This lesson introduces students to the engineering concept of sustainable design. In the course of their research and contemplation, they will have an opportunity to evaluate solar energy systems, transportation issues, heating and cooling systems, and water conservation. They will be forced to weigh the choice of building materials against manufacturing processes and insulation features. As they are introduced to the concepts of species and their successful adaptations, they will direct their research to desert species and look for clues for promoting comfort in this harsh environment. They will develop this village with an eye toward low impact and engineering marvel.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Apply their background knowledge to begin solving the challenge.
  • Define and explain the importance of sustainable design.
  • Explain the role biomimicry has for design implementation.
  • The importance of designing cities and manufacturing products in ways similar to natural systems. These are systems which minimize energy use and recycle all products into new, usable forms.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Evaluate the design solution using conceptual, physical, and mathematical models at various intervals of the design process in order to check for proper design and to note areas where improvements are needed. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop and produce a product or system using a design process. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Evaluate final solutions and communicate observation, processes, and results of the entire design process, using verbal, graphic, quantitative, virtual, and written means, in addition to three-dimensional models. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment. (Grade 5 ) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Science concepts. The student recognizes multiple forms of energy and knows the impact of energy transfer and energy conservation in everyday life. The student is expected to: (Grades 9 - 10 ) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

  • pen and paper for brainstorming ideas with team members

Internet access, to view the titles listed in the body of Lesson 1:


You have just listened to three leading experts in the field of ecology, biomimicry and the societal need for sustainable design. Your challenge question's solution will require you to encompass aspects from each of these areas. Your group should begin by collectively asking yourselves what is unique about the area of this construction. What is distinctive about a desert compared to building in one of our other national parks? What species live there and how do we guarantee their protection? Is it important to understand their needs? Are they able to survive in this locale due to any special adaptations and do those adaptations suggest any particular approaches for our design concept? Begin a list of these questions and your initial responses. Your list will grow and shift as we complete the lessons of this module. Continue to modify it and let this be the stimulus of your research efforts. This is just the beginning of a much larger activity. At this stage, you will begin combining any knowledge you currently have to help solve this challenge by brainstorming with your team members. You will continue to receive more information throughout the following activities and lessons which will aid you in finding a resolution to the challenge question.



This activity introduces students to the topics that we will begin to cover in greater depth over the days to follow. Students should formulate new and deeper questions as the lessons advance. Competition can be heightened by telling the students that their bid designs will be judged and the winning team's bid will be awarded some recognition deemed appropriate. A student-generated power point presentation is provided to assist teachers in understanding the range of topics that students may choose to present from. It is meant only to be illustrative.

Plan on 45 minutes to introduce the challenge question and activity, and place students into groups of four. Then have students continue to work with their team members for the next several weeks, preparing their final designs in the form of a PowerPoint presentation—which concludes the Go Public portion of the Legacy Cycle.

Before the Activity

This activity does not require any special preparation or handouts. A grading rubric is provided for their Go Public power point presentations of their solutions to their challenge question.

With the Students

  1. Describe the activity by presenting the introduction for the activity as discussed above.
  2. Divide them into their teams.
  3. Explain that they will work on their challenges over the length of this module and that it will culminate in their creating a power point presentation presented as an actual bid from the architectural firm that they represent.
  4. Go over the grading rubric with the students.

Worksheets and Attachments

Investigating Questions

  1. How does a desert differ from other regions of the U.S.?
  2. What special conditions do you identify with a desert?
  3. Will these conditions need special attention in the design of your guest village?
  4. Identify products and building technologies that have been marketed as "sustainable" and/or "green." Evaluate the effectiveness of these products and technologies in a desert climate.


Grade students' final projects by using the attached rubric. This represents their Go Public portion of the Legacy Cycle.

Activity Scaling

For lower grades, provide direction for their research sources.


Wendy J. Holmgren; Megan Johnston; Amber Spolarich


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2006 Vanderbilt University

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: March 7, 2018