Gimme shelter

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

What does this look like to you? Giant eyeballs, maybe? We came upon this scene over the weekend, in the woods at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in upper Roxborough. What the heck?! Very intriguing. Julia Molloy came over to chat, explaining that they were building a "semi-sustainable structure" called Bird/Seed Shelter as part of the center's "Gimme Shelter" competition. The idea is to build awareness of the meaning of "sustainability," a word that's tossed around a lot these days, and how it affects our lives and connection to the natural world. It's supposed to be inspiring, educational and fun. Let's hear it for fun!

The center received about 80 designs from 60 teams around the world, most from the U.S. but also Portugal, Spain and Korea, according to Zoe Cohen, manager of the center's art program. Six finalists, who get $5,500 each, are building their woodland creations now. They're supposed to be big enough for four people to sleep overnight in sleeping bags and last about a year. After looking at the website (, I think this is my favorite - three spheres will be covered in concrete, overlaid with soil, planted with native plants and embedded with bird seed. Birds are so much a part of the Schuylkill Center experience - check out the bird blind - that this design, a bird-, plant- and people-friendly shelter inside a hill of earth, seems especially tailored for this beautiful spot.

Julia, whose team is from Brooklyn, pronounced it "very cool." Zoe said it was "very cool." I think it's "very cool!" It's unanimous. Gimme Shelter is part of the center's environmental art program and is its most ambitious undertaking to date. Major funder is the William Penn Foundation, complemented by Habitat for Humanity volunteers and in-kind donations from other sources. Opening day is Saturday, May 9, from 2-5 p.m. but you have a year or so to stop by.

It's great to see such exciting things going on in the woods and to meet smart people who are using their brains and creativity to promote responsible designs that kiss the earth and make us smile. We can all use more of that.