The Department of Landscape Architecture does the craziest
thing: once a year we invite a well-known landscape architect to Muncie, cancel
all architecture related classes (including studio- Yippee!), and engage in a
days-long, intensive design “charrette,” which is just a fancy word for group
design done at the speed of lightning. We call this lovely ordeal "Design Week," and it is both loved and hated by its many participants.
So, the way Design Week works is the ENTIRE department gets separated into "vertical teams," which means there are students from every year on your team. For example, the team I was on had two graduate students, a fifth year (who unfortunately didn't show up), two forth years, two third years, and two second years. After the initial kickoff, the teams assemble in the main atrium of the architecture building and design like its nobody's business while professors, stakeholders, and community members stroll around offering advice and recommendations. Joining the general hustle and bustle is our guest project leader and keynote speaker, who is generally a prestigious landscape architect from anywhere around the world.
year we were pleased to have Mr. Fumiaki Takano of Takano Landscape
Planning join us from Japan. He's a pretty amazing designer. If you check out his firm's projects, you may come across the Children's Playground in Takino Hillside Park, which is definitely the coolest park I've ever seen-- I can't wait for an opportunity to go see it in person. I also really like his approach to design-- he showed us pictures from his projects and described his design process, which includes HEAVY community involvement, extremely intricate designs using on-site materials, and creating 1:10 scale models in the dirt outside his firm's office just to watch how the sun sets on it. Basically, the guy is pretty baller.
The project site is in Muncie; there are a few closed industrial parks in the area that are to be rehabilitated to create a "gateway" into Muncie plus some connections between the greenways in the area. The problems we were addressing involved how to successfully redevelop a brownfield (in other words, what do you do with land that's been contaminated by decades of industrial waste), how to alter the aesthetic of the area to create a more welcoming atmosphere, and how to protect-- if not enhance-- the ecology and natural environment of the area. It was actually a really interesting project with a ton of potential, especially to me since my preference is in urban design (whereas I've been laboring through regional design all semester, but more on that some other time). This semester's design work has been mostly on the computer, so it was such a relief to get back to doing hand drawings and messy concept ideas. Those are the things that make me really enjoy my major.
Now for the nitty-gritty; Design Week is incredibly time consuming, tiring, and frustrating. For starters, it began this year on Sunday at 1:00, and it continued well into the evening (many stayed until 9:00 or later; last year I remember staying until 2 in the morning working on some rooftop design), lasting all day Monday and finally drawing to an end Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving Break. I admit I did not stay very long on any of the days-- one of the difficulties of vertical teams is that you suddenly find yourself on a design team with people you know nothing about with varying interests and skills. Normally I would find such a situation exciting and challenging, but this year it was just challenging for me. From my perspective, the best design contributions came from the second year students (they had probably the strongest designs), but they were a little shy at first (thankfully they got over that). The challenge for me came from someone who we'll call "The Team Member," and let's just say The Team Member had many good ideas, and it was best if the rest of the group just went along with them. Since that type of "teamwork" is not my favorite, I ended up not spending very much extra time at Design Week.
So my actual design experience was a bit of a letdown, but I still gained plenty from Design Week. I have to say that I absolutely applaud whoever decided to bring Mr. Takano to Ball State. I found his work completely inspiring, I thoroughly enjoyed his lectures, and I learned new ways of tackling design problems during his critiques with our group. I am especially interested in his community-based design methods, which seem to be what makes him unique among landscape architects. While most landscape architects base their design in community interests (hopefully), Mr. Takano actually gives community members paper and markers and asks them to help in the preliminary design schemes. He has community members so involved in every part of the process that they apparently help build and maintain the spaces as volunteers. They take complete ownership of the space, and that-- I think-- should be every designer's goal. If absolutely nothing else, I feel like Design Week was worth it because of Mr. Takano's presence.
I guess we'll just see how next year goes!