happy places

Last month I wrote a blog post for Enterprise linking the inspiration I have gained from Lina Bo Bardi’s work, particularly SESC Pompeia, with the aspirations our team has for the Baptist Town Community Center.  I reference a quote of hers that I read in Rowan Moore’s Why We Build about when she first visited the site:

“’I thought: it has to continue like this, with so much happiness. I returned many times, Saturdays and Sundays, until I really got it – understood those happy things people were doing.’”

As we celebrated the opening of the Baptist Town Community Center, I was reminded of the lessons I learned from SESC. Here, we similarly (albeit within a shorter time frame and smaller budget) worked with the bones of an existing building. We set up shop within the Baptist Town neighborhood and attempted to make small and useful additions to a place that is already vibrant with life and energy.

After one month of operations, I’m not ready to write any grant reports about “measurable impacts” or “long-term outcomes”, but the number of people who are participating and enjoying the center is really promising. In June we had Zumba classes, community movie nights, and offered job application assistance. Yolande’s art classes were a huge success, sometimes drawing more than twenty-five people. To me, this is the goal of social impact architecture; to make a space like the Baptist Town Community Center a happy place.

 

final but not finished

Above: MSU CAAD students complete their DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA “final exam”.

While attending the Design for Equity Bruner Loeb Forum in November I met Miriam Gee, a co-worker of Enterprise Rose Fellow Geoffrey Barton. Miriam is an architect, builder, and instructor. Miriam has extensive experience with some of the leading design build programs in the United States including the Asheville Design Center, and Yestermorrow Design/Build School. She describes her career as “inspired by students, yet grounded in real-world design challenges.” Connecting academia with project delivery is challenging and raises questions regarding how students can responsibly gain experience, how to manage client expectations, and how to prioritize the goals of such a project. Check out Build Lightly Studio to see some of Miriam’s completed projects.

In the 3-hour elective course DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA I led this fall at Mississippi State University, the students did not finish construction of our project, but we did meet our goals. As stated above, linking a learning experience to carrying out and completing construction is not a straight-forward process. To succeed doesn’t necessarily mean to build something substantial or even complete.

I think success in this type of project first means defining clear expectations with the client. If the students expect to complete a cost estimate and a build a foundation, but the client is expecting a completed building, everyone will be disappointed. Second, though design build classes have great potential for responding to community needs and being a source of cheap labor, education must remain a priority. Instructors must offer structured guidance, and not rely wholly on the students to be intentional about learning throughout the project experience. Finally, someone on the team must have the skills to lead the project. Carpentry, masonry, and other skills are trades, and it is irresponsible to expect untrained individuals to be able to master or even manage these skills in a short period of time.

In DESIGN|BUILD: DELTA, the first half of the semester the goal was to design and oversee construction of a new, code compliant entry area for the Baptist Town Community Center. In the second half of the semester, students paired individual goals (learning to weld, calling material suppliers on the phone, using a drill, and creating material and cost schedules) with the goal of designing and partially building a railing system that is functional but also sets an inspirational tone at the new community center.