Spring Studio ’09 :: Design Stories


The spring semester graduate studio at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative focused on the location of the current Port of Cleveland as its site for investigation. The students were asked to respond to the Cuyahoga County Port Authority’s RFQ (Request for Qualifications) released in December, which stated its interest in selecting a design firm,

“to develop a comprehensive master plan for an iconic and transformational redevelopment strategy for a portion of Cleveland’s downtown lakefront. This area is approximately 100 acres of industrial waterfront land, in public ownership, located between the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and the North Coast Harbor public venue and currently is used principally for commercial maritime activities.”

One of the most important urban design initiatives for Cleveland this decade, the studio explored the redevelopment potential of this critical site before the professionals were selected and intended to help set the agenda for an exemplary outcome.

dsc09965A component of the studio involved an interdisciplinary collaboration between graduate architecture students from the CUDC and undergraduate photojournalism students taught by Teresa Hernandez at Kent State University. The collaboration explored the use of video, still photography, and audio interviews to craft narratives, which were used to enrich the design process and as a new medium for communicating the design process to stakeholders and the public.

Oftentimes for urban design students, and urban design professionals, an over-reliance on abstracted modes of representation, such as land use plans, may result in a detachment from the fuller experience of a place. As visual communicators that use the subjective point of view of the lens to craft compelling stories, photojournalists have skills that may yield mutually beneficial collaborations with urban designers. This studio project is an initial investigation in the CUDC’s ongoing exploration of how subjective, more experiential, tools for communication could inform design decisions.  

dsc_0192A second issue addressed in the studio was the role of narrative in design.  For urban design visions to be realized, it requires the involvement of many individuals, generally, each with their own agendas and goals. An understanding of one’s role as an urban designer, within the web of competing interests, complex urban issues, and long timespans for project completion, can be difficult to discern. Understanding how to reconcile an individual designer’s vision with the interests of multiple stakeholders can be especially difficult for architecture students that are accustomed to designing for a single client. Narrative models were introduced to provide a framework for understanding the environment within which urban design decisions are made. Rather than creating pristine forms on a blank slate, urban designers influence environments within a cyclical model of existing conditions, collaborative acts of creation and subsequent reinterpretation. Documentation of the design process, complete with failures and successes, may enrich the designer’s own understanding of their efforts and may be a practical step towards transparency desired by stakeholders and the public.     

Matthew Potteiger states, “We live within worlds of stories and we use stories to shape those worlds.” It is through the stories of the landscape, its people and events that we learn about a place. Perhaps through a better understanding of our roles within narrative, we will discover our identities, become more compelling storytellers and become better equipped to write the stories we want to live in the future.   

by david jurca

One Comment on “Spring Studio ’09 :: Design Stories”

  • Divya Sridhar

    And I am excited to see the introduction of a more collaborate process in CUDC. Studying abstract models and land use plans are good things to do, important and academic steps towards good decision making, but is only completed by involving the stakeholders at multiple levels. It is critical during the learning process, to be able to involve all the senses of the touch, feel, see and smell, in design, all of which can be achieved by walking on the streets, talking to people, capturing the essence, documenting it and passing forward. How cool will be be to understand how the stakeholders look and talk and share their stories, giving designers a share of understanding of what life means to those who are a part of the solution. Also, capturing factual and practical pieces of information, limitations and comments, not just visually but across all media, of the all those involved in an urban story writing process provides for a well rounded appreciation for the subject in discussion, and a more wholesome approach to analyzing solutions. I like it. It is a progressive step towards realistic problem solving for existing realistic problems.

    04-13-09 » 10:26 pm »

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