12-19-14

Student Perspective| Tyler Middendorf | Detroit Charrette

As the year comes to a close, we here at the CUDC, are looking back at some of our students accomplishments and their achievements throughout the semester. MArch & MUD student, Tyler Middendorf, participated in a design charrette in Detroit, MI. We asked him to write about his experience for our blog. Read Tyler’s story below and get a glimpse of the student perspective.


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When the semester first began, I was asked if I would like to participate in a design charrette in Detroit. To be perfectly honest, I did not know exactly what a charrette was, but, as jumping into an adventure head first is my nature, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation.

Ultimately though, that is what a charrette is all about; a bunch of adventurous minds jumping into a new problem together and exploring the possibilities. As the home team, Lawrence Technological University knew the lay of the land, both in terms of the design site and the studio. The visitors, Ball State University and your hometown heroes from Kent State, provided the distanced outside perspective; the “fresh take.” This mashup of perspectives allowed for informed design that did not get too caught up in the particulars involved in the typical design process.

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The three day charrette went quickly, to say the very least. We arrived to Detroit, our trace paper and markers in tow, with just enough time to get a quick and dirty tour of the city and throw down some BBQ. Still wiping the sauce from our faces, we were swept onto a tour bus to visit our design site, the Marina District, about 4 ½ miles northeast of downtown. We drove the site with local narration, giving us just enough background information to really start asking questions. Shortly after, we met with a couple of Marina District citizens who presented what they saw as the gems and the germs of the site. After a delicious dinner of lamb and flaming cheese (Opa!) we headed to Lawrence Tech’s downtown studio and split up into three teams, each one a blend of the three participating schools.

We started off the design process by listing the key problems of the district that we had heard throughout the day, and from there laid out our project goals. We then broke off into sub committees to draw site analysis diagrams addressing the problems and goals we had listed. We drew until night became day. We drew until even our Microns were tired. We drew until the project finally insisted that it needed a break from us, and only then did we return to the hotel.

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We were back at it early the next morning though, only now we were overlaying our analysis diagrams, tracing their interactions, identifying nodes, and extracting pathways. There were mounds of trace, transparencies covering all surfaces in the room. With these nodes and pathways identified, we were ready to really begin producing. We drew sections that gave the streets personalities and signage and symbols that gave the district identity. The waterfront, bike paths, and commercial streets were illustrated. Again, we drew late into the night, taking breaks only for coffee and pizza.

The next morning was crunch time. Though we had been working hard, there was still much left to do, much more visual explanation required to make the locals see what we saw in their district. We worked until the zero hour. With only minutes before the presentation, we decided who would explain each part of the project, and we formed a rough and rudimentary outline of our speech. The ink on the master plan was not yet dry when we hung it on the wall for review.

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Each team presented their project, and it was fairly remarkable the differences that had emerged between each in the short span of time. The local natives gave us their feedback on our work, and just like that, the intensive three day design session drew to a close.

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In the end, perhaps we gave the Marina District residents some new ideas, and hopefully at least a few of them were good. Beyond that, we got to learn from our peers from other places, exposing us to different methods and different graphic techniques. We learned the value of quick iteration which can be applied to the long and tedious projects with which we are typically involved, helping us to move through problems with just a little more ease. Most importantly, the charrette was also a reminder of why we do architecture and urban design in the first place. We aim to improve the world in some capacity, and if we can achieve that to any extent in just three days, imagine what we might do with the rest of our lives?

-Tyler Middendorf, MArch/MUD

 

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