Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Sister's House

The Urban Studio project 'My Sister's House' was wrapped up Monday with an open house and reception. While I was unable to stay for the ribbon cutting ceremony, I could tell that there was definitely a lot of buzz about the building on Monday. Walking around and looking at the place, it was obvious that a lot of people must have put a lot of work into its design and construction. It is really great to see a project of such a large scale come from the UNCG IARC program. The building had a very modern look and some very un-traditional details to it. Some examples included the irregular sized and placed windows as well as polished concrete floors throughout the building. There were a few details that I will be interested to see how they are adapted to living with an infant. Particularly the challenge of how to child proof the cabinets and protect the concrete floors to avoid serious bruises from falling when a child is learning to walk. Ultimately I think My Sister's House is a wonderful achievement that will be talked about for a long time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2010


From the time the ‘Makeshift Shelter’ project was assigned, I could tell that everyone involved was excited about the work that had to be done. For starters, following a semester where the studio work revolved largely around programming documents, sketching and rendering, this assignment was a breath of fresh air. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with only programming and rendering. I definitely learned and grew a lot last semester, but I have always truly loved working in three dimensions and building things with my hands. I feel that this project was a nice exercise of designing and then moving straight into building.
Given that the task or activity that our shelter had to perform was to be a ‘Shelter for socializing,’ our team (the red team: Wes, Clarissa, Hailey and myself) began by throwing out and writing down descriptor words of what exactly this shelter must do in order to be a good structure for socializing. Comfortable, easy line of sight and easy accessibility from approaching people where among the list of qualities we knew the makeshift shelter must embody.
I can definitely say that describing what we wanted our structure to do was a lot easier than trying to figure out how exactly to take the list of descriptors and create a place made of no more than five materials and no more than two binding agents. My biggest challenge from a design standpoint was figuring out how to make a structure that not only fit within the small footprint that we were given in the Gatewood lobby, but would also be suitable for socializing. As our group discussed the challenges before us, we concluded that to ‘socialize’ there needs to be at least three people involved. Two people hanging out is more like a date, or more personal. Thus, at least three people must get together to really be socializing. And of course, as the saying goes when it comes to a party, the more the merrier! Our group chose to address this challenge by designing a structure that would be open in some way on all sides, leaving it approachable by any one who wanted to ‘socialize’ from any angle.
Once we identified clearly the needs and parameters surrounding the shelter, we each sketched out what we thought it should look like and how it might actually work. My role in this process was to suggest some materials that I knew would be easy to get our hands on, and would work structurally. I took some scrap corrugated cardboard and made a small test model of what our potential columns could be made of. By showing it to the rest of the group, I convinced everyone that this would be a viable option for the use of the main structural skeleton of our shelter. The system I was working of consisted simply of a large rectangle of cardboard that is scored twice and then rolled into a triangle. It is then wrapped with plastic wrap. The natural characteristic of the cardboard made it want to unroll, thus keeping a constant, tight pressure on the plastic wrap, holding the column together.
With a building system in place we moved into refining and making decisions on overall size based on our footprint limitations. From the interior we based decisions on how much space we had and needed, relative to the human scale. Taking inspiration from a gazebo I saw on the campus of Elon College, we loosely based our structure on the idea of an open shelter with seating that had two openings, and was approachable from all sides. I made a rough model in sketchup, and the rest of the group used that to create our physical scale model.
With the scale modeling phase complete, we began construction of the beast. Before beginning construction, we all collected massive amounts of corrugated cardboard, plastic wrap, fabric and twine. Hailey were working on the fabric walls while Clarissa and I made the columns. I definitely hit a point after making a few columns where I had a lot of doubts as to whether this thing would actually stand up. I knew that worrying about it wouldn’t help so I just kept building and decided that I would address the structural problems as they came. I can definitely say that working on scale models robs you of quite a bit of reality of the challenges faced when working at full scale.
Ultimately with a lot of trial and error, we completed the shelter almost exactly the way we intended to. We did decide to leave off a bench, but other than that I have to say the whole thing was a success. I enjoyed this project and feel that it broadened the way I think about how to use materials’ strengths together in simply ways for a positive result.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Housing and Community Response

This chapter was interesting and packed with information. I have always wondered how all of the inner workings of local government organized housing and community. In terms of a reaction to this chapter, I have to say that I feel pretty overwhelmed by how much information was embedded in the writing. I guess in a way its nice to know that there are so many people and so much thought put into the issues of housing. Also, I definitely appreciate that if I was in a situation where I wanted to dispute something, there is actually an outlet for my voice to be heard. From my experience, the process of dealing with the local government to resolve an issue related to zoning and housing can be a tedious one.
Last summer, I was hired to do an architectural rendering for a homeowner in a historic district neighborhood. The homeowner had a small one level house with a small front porch that he wanted to enclose with a screened porch. Taking the proper steps, he and his builder contacted the city to get his permit. This put him in touch with a gentleman named Mike Cowhig with the city of Greensboro’s Historic District. Mike told the homeowner that he needed drawings of what the proposed porch would look like so he and the committee could give a thumbs up of down to the project. The city’s main concern was that the porch would be keeping in the look and style of the Historic District. Apparently, this tiny little porch was actually a really big deal because up till then, no one had ever been allowed to add a screened porch in the neighborhood. If the homeowner’s porch was approved, the city knew it would become the catalyst for multiple other people wanting to do the same things to their houses.
This is how I fit in the picture… The homeowner had already contacted an architect about the project, and the architect wanted a thousand dollars to do the drawing. Trying to avoid the high cost, the homeowner asked Mike at the City of Greensboro if he knew of a cheaper option. Mike contacted my Dad, who is an architect to see if he knew of any one who could do it for cheaper. My Dad suggested me since all they really needed was a rendering. Luckily for me I learned a lot in Suzanne’s drawing class last year, so I was up to the task. I had a meeting on the site with the homeowner, the builder, and two city representatives about how the project would look. After much deliberation between all parties involved, we all reached a decision on what would be done. Then I came up with the rendering which was turned in to the City of Greensboro. The drawing showed what was needed and the porch was approved. Honestly I felt bad for the homeowner who went through so much just to have a screened porch built!

Friday, February 5, 2010


-During World War II, the Chicago Housing Authority began building a low rise apartment project for war workers.

-The original population of Cabrini Green reflected the area’s past ethnic mix of poor Italians, Irish, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans living among the war workers and veterans.

-The Chicago Housing Authority failed to budget money to repair buildings and maintain landscaping as they deteriorated causing horrible conditions with vermin and worsening of the structures.

-Cabrini-Green's reputation for crime and gangs rivaled the former inhabitants’ of what was commonly known as “Little Hell.”

“Over the year, the resident leaders have volunteered for any and all programs to improve the conditions at Cabrini Green in effort to ensure its continued existence. They formed local advisory council.” Larry Bennett, Janet L. Smith, and Patricia A. Wright, Where are Poor People to Live? The case of Cabrini-Green , Patricia A. Wright and Richard M. Wheelock and Carol Steel, New York, 2006

-Increasing real-estate values in the later twentieth century led housing officials to propose replacement of the complex from low income housing to mix income homes community. Pricing between $200,000 to $500.000.

-This was the largest demolition of public housing in American history and it uprooted around 40,000 who had never lived anywhere but in public housing.

-Chicago Housing Authority announces Plan for Transformation, which will spend $1.5 billion over ten years to demolish 18,000 apartments and build or rehabilitate 25,000 apartments.

-Earlier redevelopment plans for Cabrini-Green are included in the Plan for Transformation. New library, rehabilitated Seward Park, and new shopping center open.

CommUNITY Social Case Study: Cabrini Green

-Currently there are only around 4,700 residents living in Cabrini Green, displacing the other 35,000.

-During the 1970’s American sitcom “Good Times,” was patterned after the infamous Cabrini Green to bring attention to poverty in a comedic way, with art work by famed artist, Ernie Barnes.

How Cabrini Green Fosters CommUNITY

How was it successful?

The community garden near Cabrini Green is used by only a few families from the complex but it has the potential to greatly foster community amongst the residents. It is open to all the communities near it and allows for more interaction among these different communities.
The community tutoring and mentor connections create community by bringing together mentors and mentees. The mentors from outside of the community use their other social connections to help bring other people together as more mentors and people who will do other things for the community.

How was it unsuccessful?

In the 1960’s the housing failed to foster community due to racial segregation among the multiple races inhabiting Cabrini Green
Allowing the buildings to go into disrepair, dereliction and infestation of rodents.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


The Special Olympics is a wonderful example of an environment that fosters community. An organization that has been around for over 40 years, the Special Olympics has provided an outlet for people with intellectual disabilities to compete in athletic activities that happen 365 days a year in over 180 countries. More than just an environment that promotes athletics, the Special Olympics promotes community. Athletes spend time practicing and competing together and build strong social bonds that last long after the games are over. The athletes learn from each other and from volunteers who help coach and organize the events.

The Special Olympics was founded in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. “Every person, regardless of whatever different abilities they may have, can contribute, can be a source of joy, and can beam with pride and love.” – Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Athletes range from all ages and are grouped together by intellectual ability rather than age.

Anyone who has had the privilege of being a part of the Special Olympics can attest to the happiness shared by all the athletes, coaches, and fans.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the city halted a civil war so Special Olympics athletes could safely compete on the streets.

This group of Special Olympics athletes doing a lap around a track in Germany shows the feeling of community that is shared by everyone involved

Getting involved with the Special Olympics id easier and less of a huge commitment than a lot of people might think. It will show you a side of your community that most people seldom think about or get the chance to experience. Furthermore, you’ll be surprised by the fact that while you are helping teach the athletes, they will be teaching you life lessons you’ll never forget.

To volunteer with the NC Special Olympics or foe more info, please visit:

Special Olympics North Carolina
2200 Gateway Centre Boulevard, Suite 201
Morrisville, NC 27560

+1 (919) 719-7662
+1 (919) 719-7663 (Fax)




What is the point of this project? My feeling is that this project is designed to get us to really think about what the most basic needs for "shelter" are. Shade, seating, and protection from weather... these are some basic needs. From there, we think about what needs are, specific to our shelter's cause. SOCIALIZING. Through dialogue among our group we defined what one really wants and needs in a space for socializing: comfort, protection, ease of visibility are just a few. But given the material restrictions and parameters for this project brought on another layer of challenge.
Material selection then became key. I think that materiality along with trying to work to full human scale, while all within the boundaries of the grid we set in the lobby have proved extremely challenging. That said, I feel this project is a total breath of fresh air from the studio projects of last semester. Making the sketchup model, then the scale model were pretty familiar and comfortable tasks. Realizing these models in full scale definitely put a serious twist on things. The column construction worked like a charm at the 1’=1” scale. Building 7’ columns out of corrugated cardboard and plastic wrap showed how unstable and challenging the materials can be when we are trying to push them so far. I admit I am nervous about how successful the end result will be however, it is far too late to turn back now. We must complete construction of THE BEAST!!!

- This project is:
Exploring, defining, and constructing a shelter for socializing in its most raw and resourceful form.