A new pavilion is rising on "The Farm," Southern Oregon University's 3.5-acre organic, sustainable garden on Walker Street.

The structure will serve as an open-air classroom where students can “dream big” as they conduct research and look for innovative ways to feed the world.

Named the Thalden Pavilion after donors Barry and Kathryn Thalden of Ashland, the soaring structure will also be used for arts, drama, music, dance, weddings, events and parties. It will also be available to students across Walker Street at Ashland Middle School and Walker Elementary School, as well as other schools, SOU President Linda Schott said at a dedication ceremony held last week.

The structure is “a wonderful example of community support for SOU,” she said, and along with the adjacent organic garden, illustrates how committed the school is to the vision of sustainability for the planet.

The pavilion, designed by local architect Christopher Brown of Arkitek Design & Architecture, will not be a square oriented to north and south, but rather will resemble a honeycombed hexagonal grid, with an “openness that future technology can take advantage of. Its end use, we don’t know.”

The pavilion will be a locus for “highlighting the world’s most pressing problems … and we’re already getting overwhelmed with ideas for it,” said Vincent Smith, professor and chairman of Environmental Science & Technology. “Our new (university) president is dedicated to this, creatively and boldly.”

The Thaldens, both architects, have already “made their mark on the community,” Schott added, with the retrofitted downtown street lamps, and flower baskets and murals on Calle Guanajuato and the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

“We want to create something incredible, and it needs to be something big, where people will say, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’ " said Barry Thalden. "It makes me feel like Kathy and I are contributing something wonderful that’s going to move the world forward in a positive direction.”

“One of the most powerful energies in the universe is gratitude," said Kathryn Thalden. "It forms everything into magic. We’re so grateful for SOU and the culture it brings to our community and the creativity it unleashes.”

She lauded how the program is helping bring healthful food and sustainability to the planet.

Barry Thalden told the crowd that “an outrageous innovation is happening here, with students and faculty dedicated to sustainability, which is recognizing that your actions today affect future generations. It’s already incredible and will be more and more so as we move along.”

Thalden pointed out that the cedar being used in construction is from a tree cut down to make room for expansion at SOU — and the bricks being used are from “The Bricks” at the center of Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Pioneer Street, which is under renovation.

He compared the pavilion to the obelisks in the 1968 movie “Space Odyssey,” scattered about the world and marking important events, such as taming fire and walking on the moon.

“This is a place where something is happening, and it’s a thing we can’t imagine now, but it will happen here.”

Completion is expected in mid-June.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.