10-29-15

Commuting the Crooked River; Making a Present out of History

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by Dax Roman Godkin

Morning. The river glistens with sunlight and possibilities. I paddle my kayak around a bend. A magnificent great blue heron rises from its quiet hunt in front of me in the river. I have disturbed its potential breakfast and it will have to seek different hunting grounds. The extended spread of the heron’s wings carries it into the horizon, two skinny little legs dangling along like an afterthought.

I am on the Second Annual Crooked River Commute down the Cuyahoga River. Organized by David Jurca, Associate Director of Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collective (CUDC), this trip begins at Kent State’s main campus and ends near the CUDC in Cleveland. More precisely, the trip ends at the river’s egress into Lake Erie at the U.S. Coast Guard station at Whiskey Island, site of the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Burning River Festival. Many of us brought our own equipment, but there was a generous contribution of boats and gear from Mark Pecot from 41 North Coastal Kayak Adventures. Additional gear was rented from Dan Hudak of River Cruiser Kayaking.

The purpose of this event is to “promote the river as a shared regional asset for education, recreation, and sustainability.” Our intention, besides just enjoying the river, is to look for areas of improvement along the 50-mile stretch of river between Kent and Lake Erie.

The Cuyahoga River has the dubious reputation of catching on fire in the late 1960’s. This was not an isolated event. River fires were not uncommon in those days, but this particular fire became the catalyst for the creation of both the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. Vast improvements in water quality on the river have come about from the interventions of these governmental agencies. There are over forty species of fish that call the Cuyahoga River home, many of which live only in clean waters.

The group met for the first time at Waterworks Park in Kent. Most of us were strangers with David being the primary connection between us. I knew David because we had lived in the same neighborhood for a time. When I heard about last year’s trip, I made sure that I got myself included in this year’s adventure by consistently pestering him for months.
Another member of the crew, David Brandt, a Cleveland Heights native and graduate of Kent State who now resides in the Washington DC area, read about the trip in an alumni newsletter and similarly pestered David to be included. Sometimes it pays to be perseverant.

There was one return member from last year’s trip, Chris Maurer, a freelance architect and instructor at Kent State, who would act as our primary scout and guide.

We all said our hellos and had a little breakfast, then hit the water for the morning.

The weather could not have been nicer, seventy-five degrees, slightly overcast, with an occasional breeze to keep it cool.

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The water through Kent was placid and serene. However, as we expected, the water levels of the river were a little low. High-centered on the bedrock and gravel riverbed several times, we scooted our way into deeper water or just got out of the boats and walked around the longer shallows. This did not take away from the beauty of the morning as we wound around the bends in this truly crooked river, talking and laughing, getting to know one another without the usual filters.

Conversations were often interrupted with the necessity to pay attention as we maneuvered through the obstacles and occasional obstructions in the river. We all watched and learned from each other, sometimes following in a member’s path as they had obviously chosen a good line through the potential stickiness, others going a different way as they got stuck in their path; the low water levels adding spice to the complex decision making processes.

We stopped for lunch and a necessary portage of the Sheraton Falls in Cuyahoga Falls. These falls are impassible for all but the most experienced paddlers.

Charles Frederick of the CUDC was in charge of the truck for this portion of the trip. Charles, a member of last year’s Commute, was quite disappointed that a shoulder injury kept him out of this year’s trip. However, his and others efforts as the support crew were invaluable assets to the trip.

A good portion of us rode with the gear in the back of the truck. We felt we were on a secret spy mission during the dark, jostley ride to the next put-in below the falls.

The next section of the trip took us past Akron and into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Read more…

10-22-15

Students learn the design process at CMA/MOOS workshop

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Last Wednesday we had the pleasure of working with high school students from the Museum Ambassadors Program at the Cleveland Museum of Art. We were asked to lead a workshop as part of the CUDC’s Making Our Own Space (MOOS) initiative. Created in January 2015, MOOS is an ongoing effort to engage Cleveland youth through hands-on design projects to empower and inspire the next generation of placemakers.

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Museum Ambassadors is a twelve-year-old, multi-visit program, where high school juniors and seniors and their teachers gain experience in all aspects of museum life at the Cleveland Museum of Art and other University Circle institutions. Guided by museum staff and volunteers, museum ambassadors come to the museum for a full day once a month to participate in presentations, projects, and discussions relating to different departments in the museum. The program currently serves 80 students and teachers from Bedford, Hawken, John Hay, Lincoln-West, Shaker, Shaw, Strongsville, and Westlake high schools and the Cleveland School of the Arts.

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We invited the group of over 30 students to participate in a fast-paced exercise to design a piece of furniture for the museum. Students were asked to imagine the user needs for different age groups, including themselves (teenagers), children, and the elderly. We led them through the whole design process from sketching and brainstorming, to design iteration and group presentations. After building a quick model in SketchUp on the computer, each team uploaded their design to an augmented reality app and viewed the model through iPads to see what their furniture would look like 3D in a real setting.

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The final presentations produced some really creative ideas, crafted through multiple design tools and quick iterations. We hope that this intense, yet fun, workshop had the students thinking about a career in the design fields. To view more pictures click here.

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10-20-15

Urban Land Institute Design Competition | Information Session October 29th

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There will be an informational session to launch recruitment for the 2016 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Urban Design Competition on October 29th at 6:00 pm at the CUDC. The competition is open to graduate students from the disciplines of architecture, urban design, urban planning, landscape architecture, finance, business, and other real estate development fields.

The ULI Competitions is an interdisciplinary urban design and development competition held over two weeks in January. It asks student teams to conceive of development program for a real, large-scale site in a major North American city. Previous cities have included New Orleans, Nashville, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. Teams from Kent State, Cleveland State, and Case Western have convened at the CUDC in previous years, bringing home multiple honorable mentions from the competition. To attend the information session, please RSVP to cudc[at]kent.edu or call 216-357-3434.

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(Students collaborating from the 2015 team)

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10-12-15

Mark Linder Lecture & Exhibition | October 19-23

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We welcome Mark Linder as he presents a special gallery exhibition and talk titled, American City 2.5. The exhibition will be on display October 19-21, 9 am – 5 pm and October 22-23, 9 am – 12 pm. Mark will give a talk about the installation on October 21 at 12 pm. Both the exhibition and the gallery talk will be held at the CUDC. Following Mark’s gallery talk at the CUDC, he will be speaking at Kent State University’s Schwartz Center 177 at 6:30 pm.

Exhibition: On display October 19-21, 9 am – 5 pm and October 22-23, 9 am – 12 pm
Gallery Talk: October  21 @ 12:00 noon, CUDC
“American City 2.5”
American City 2.5 explores the imaging capacities of geographic information systems (GIS) as a mode of urban design. It is the most recent in a series of GIS projects that began in 2001 as transdisciplinary research on the differing capabilities, spatial logics, and disciplinary bases of GIS and CAD software. This project exploits the geo-processing and graphic capacities of GIS to transform the discrete categories and boundaries of census and municipal data into pliable, even plastic, relational images that can suggest new spatial networks, gaps, intensities, densities, and affiliations. We propose a hybridized, cross-programmed, and more efficient public services network that combines the scales, infrastructures, operations, programs, and constituencies of four underfunded, atrophying public institutions -schools, libraries, post offices, and bus transit- in the context of hydrology and economy. Our imaging techniques aspire to manifest dissensual and differential space in which “the people” does not consist of individual data points in a census of the population, and citizens are not units of demographic categorization or subjects in a policed domain of information. Rather, the people are reformulated as relative, unstable, and latent communities in an improper spatial mapping of an amalgamated, networked public institution.

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Kent State University Lecture: Wednesday, October 21 @ 6:30 PM, Schwartz Center 177 
“The New Brutal: Images, Mies and the Smithsons”
What might architectural practice become if its primary means and ends were images? Imaging is a field of inquiry and possibility with fundamental challenges for architecture today. It is also a field with a history in architecture, and a clear beginning in the work and ideas of the New Brutalist architects affiliated with the Independent Group of 1950s Britain, most famously theorized by Reyner Banham as topological “image-making.” The New Brutal is increasingly pertinent in today’s world of dense, instantaneous, superficial actualities which are as prevalent, and as necessary to grapple with, in architecture’s production, reception and dissemination as in any other field.

Mark Linder is a Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University, where he has chaired the graduate programs, coordinated the New York City program, and served as Chancellor’s Fellow in the Humanities. His research pursues design theory and history considered in a transdisciplinary framework and is focused on modern architecture since 1950. He is the author of Nothing Less than Literal: Architecture after Minimalism (MIT 2004) and is currently at work on a book titled That’s Brutal, What’s Modern? on the alternative mid-century modernisms, or Miesianisms, of Alison and Peter Smithson, Walter Segal, John Hejduk, and others. He has taught as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, Harvard, University of Illinois-Chicago, Rice University, IIT, RISD, and UCLA.

His most recent work explores the potential of image studies for architecture. As Chancellor’s Fellow in the Humanities (2011-14) he taught a seminar and organized an event series, titled IMAGES?Precisely!, which focused on the ways that the precise analysis, application, and understanding of images invite innovative research methods and collaborations, and promise to shuffle the presumed territories, limits, affiliations, and purposes of academic fields. A website, imagesproject.org documents the results of that work.

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10-08-15

Havana: the future never happened by itself…

 

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On October 7th, the CUDC hosted a lecture by the influential Cuban architect and urban planner, Miguel Coyula. Professor Coyula is on the faculty at the University of Havana. In his lecture at the CUDC, he talked about Havana–past, present, and future. He organized his remarks around a central idea:

The future never happened by itself. It was created.

As many have observed, Havana is a city that feels fixed in time. Yet everything is on the verge of change. Buildings, infrastructure, and public spaces throughout the city are crumbling due to the decades-long embargo, widespread poverty, and a complex political system that allocates resources inefficiently. As foreign capital flows into Cuba at an accelerating rate, local entrepreneurs and outside investors are beginning to transform the city. The long term cultural effects and the physical form of the city in the future are as yet unknown. And Havana’s future is yet to be created.

 

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Professor Coyula is both optimistic and concerned about the future of Havana. He sees opportunities to learn from other cities; that every city can show you something, good or bad. But despite the outside pressures and international influences that will inevitably be part of Havana’s regeneration, his advice to architects and planners in Cuba is to:

Think Cuban. Be Cuban. Don’t imitate.

In the US, we’re on the outside looking in. But that too is about to change. Havana poses many complex questions…about architecture, real estate development, historic preservation, and infrastructure networks. We have a remarkable opportunity to both support reconstruction efforts in Havana with new technologies and design expertise, and simultaneously learn from the resourcefulness and tenacity of the many Cubans who’ve held their city together under difficult circumstances for the past six decades.

Havana remains a vibrant place, though the scale of disinvestment feels overwhelming at times. But there’s good reason for optimism and the US and Cuba gradually rediscover each other.

The Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design and the CUDC are exploring opportunities to engage our students, faculty, and research staff in Cuban design issues. In March of 2015, CAED Dean Doug Steidl and CUDC Director Terry Schwarz traveled to Havana with Jorge Delgado and James Thompson of the Joaquin Weiss Institute. The purpose of this trip was to observe the physical environment of the city and provide initial reactions about how future development might evolve. We also used the trip to explore ideas for future academic programs. Our findings are summarized in a report: CUBA_observations.

The CUDC is grateful to Kent State University President Lester Lefton who provided support for Miguel Coyula’s visit to Cleveland, and also to KSU Professor Anne Morrison who organized the event. Anne is organizing a study trip to Cuba from December 31, 2015 – January 8, 2016. If you’d like to see Cuba for yourself, contact Anne at amorriso[at]kent.edu for more information.