Last year, our Baltimore office partnered with Brehms Lane Elementary, a local charter school operated by the nonprofit organization Afya Baltimore Inc. We primed students with a STEAM Career Day to jump-start our endeavor to inspire design in their everyday activities. Over the next few months, the office planned and reworked an architectural-design curriculum that overlaid with their STEAM resource class. We posed the same challenges to ourselves as last year: Can we inspire 48 students to pursue a technical or design profession?!
Not exactly! But we could make do with 24 fifth-graders! We scaled down plans to ensure we kept a personable volunteer-to-student ratio, as well as a limited interruption from the students’ regular school programming.
Our curriculum was five sessions. The 2017-18 year started with a collaborative visioning session. While we had a framework and key lessons in place, we wanted the students to be empowered and lead their own path of design. This reactive position led to many insights and ideas that we would never have considered! We challenged them to re-think how they interact with their spaces, and what defines their surroundings.
“What are your least favorite spaces?” Among many other queries in the survey, we pitched this question to the class. Unsurprisingly, students answered with physicians’ offices and their library; however, they answered not for the reasons expected! They noted that their library lacked the organization and qualities that other public libraries provided. This could be attributed to the physical space, book selection, human personnel… and many other factors, but hey! We could work with this!
Final project = Library Dioramas! We ended the year with a return to the physical world. Dioramas served as the best method to showcase their new knowledge of architectural principles and design skills. We spent weeks collecting shoeboxes, cutting collage pieces, and 3d printing furniture to prepare for this culmination! Students assembled their dioramas in our last session. These would be later presented to the community showcase in the month following!
The Baltimore office is steadily deepening our roots into our local communities! As the workplace is our house for where synergy happens, we must remember to spread that energy with our friends for a better, healthier environment. Our partnership with Baltimore’s chapter of the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC), a nonprofit organization facilitating the development of healthy, equitable neighborhoods, allows us to explore pro bono services and involvement beyond the office.
The NDC provided a monumental opportunity: to design storefront and streetscape guidelines for Pennsylvania Avenue. The site is in plain-view from our office. This corridor holds historical and cultural significance to everyone, ranging from public interest due to the 2015 protests to the most important constituents – the residents and property owners. We chose to focus our planning efforts on this group as they were the most impacted, and deserve the empowerment and entitlement that comes from our design initiatives. Up until the Great Recession, the community was beginning to thrive. The ULI Technical Assistant Panel titled their report of suggestions “Restoring the Glory” as a reminder of the prominent Pennsylvania Avenue that was in multiple points of history.
Our work started with a series of community meetings to profile and understand the local issues and desires. Through many iterations of simplifying graphic prompts, we asked questions of “where are your issues / how can architecture help solve your issues?”. We found common themes of historical “resurrection” with bringing back jazz and entertainment motifs, as well as promoting health and safety along the corridor. With all the galvanized community feedback, we conducted weekly lunchtime charrettes to refine our storefront and streetscape proposals.
Early in 2018, NDC held a design review of our progress, where we received positive acclaim and a great deal of constructive feedback to further our proposals. As our deliverables will be a series of guidelines, we are continuing to dive deeper into our suggestions and their implications from a micro to macro scale. Stakeholders will be reviewed toward the end of Q1 2018. We hope to leave our mark in Pennsylvania Avenue’s history, and more importantly, see improvements to the health of these neighborhoods.
Special thanks to Richard Chou and Richardson Jean-Baptiste’s continuing efforts in leading this collaborative!
Site aerial of Baltimore and our office location.
One of a series of meetings with local residents and business owners
An example of visual boards to poll community participants
“Launched by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts in 2016, Light City is the largest festival of light, music and innovation in North America. Central to Light City is the BGE Light Art Walk along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, featuring attractions including illuminated sculptures, projections, interactive technologies, performances, concerts, food vendors and a children’s area.”
– Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts
Here’s another reason to come to Baltimore: the whole city lights up for an entire week every spring! Since its inception, Light City has promoted local artists to showcase original outdoor works through awards with city-funded grants up to $75,000. The festival provides a huge opportunity for individuals and groups to make a vibrant mark on the city – no reason for us not to try, and make one too!
One of our office’s most valuable assets is our studio culture. The office leaders ensure an open, secure environment to freely communicate and give feedback, whether the comments may be positive or negative. More importantly, as a number of colleagues heard that we were submitting a Light City proposal, they couldn’t help but provide some of their insights into the design!
We collected everyone’s thoughts on the Pinterest board (as imaged above). Certain themes arose as many of the precedent images began to use similar technologies, namely motion tracking, projection mapping, and kinetic elements. The only caveat to the images is the lack of Baltimore dialogue; we figured that to be a contender, the installation should somehow be Baltimore-themed! We bounced ideas ranging from a fully immersive, interactive room to large inflated, kinetic structures to play up our own Baltimore tourist charms.
Ultimately, we realized that the design must reflect our culture, so we identified the key drivers in determining the final design: interaction and dialogue. Our preferred choice of medium would be projection mapping, and the challenge then was to design the dwelling to house the interactive elements.
So we knew projection mapping was our route – now how do we want to differentiate ourselves from others? Our preliminary sketches depicted simple screens to serve as backdrops for moving spectators to affect the projection. A number of previous installations used light to animate scenery and illuminate nearby features, but lacked the notion of interaction we hoped to bring. However, we were particularly fascinated by Space in the Middle by KMA, a large-scale piece that appeared completely dependent on its audience. With this, we embedded the idea of crowdsourcing to invite spectators to become active participants in the work.
As our methodology shifted, so did our ideas toward grander schemes. Some pushed for an immersive, mixed reality experience where participants would become analogs to manipulate building blocks along the city skyline. To host such an activity, we entertained the idea of constructing a miniature stage for light to bleed from the floor, and project onto standing screens. Our design leader was still unsatisfied, and suggested to elevating the whole structure, otherwise designing the structure as the main attraction and increase visibility. We settled eventually settled on a large, inflatable, interactive sea creature.
The more we developed the budget, the less the inflatable appeared feasible; this idea was quickly value-engineered out (sorry, Kent Muirhead). Now with costs weighing more heavily on our design, we began re-evaluating our methodology and looking toward computational solutions to preserve our lofty ideas. Projection mapping is dependent on two mediums: the input controllers and projection surface. The computational designers could not wait to tease out the options with the controllers, so we quickly obtained an Xbox Kinectand Leap Motion controller. This led to a few studies in delayed video-keyframing and motion-tracking via Grasshopper. The final form of the projection surface was determined by the intended site location and playfulness from designing the audience’s intended interaction.
The design-build nature of this proposal kept our spirits high throughout the entire design. The majority of the budget was allocated to the structure and securing the whole installation through Baltimore Inner Harbor’s spring winds and rain. As we would provide the labor ourselves, we planned for a warehouse space to prototype, stage, and build our bubble. The plan for a hollow pipe structure provided us flexibility for any adjustments in construction, as well as projection fabric to conform to any shape.
We believe that the most compelling element was the interaction station, which consisted of a computer outfitted with a camera and motion tracker. Working like a telephone booth and shaped as an arcade machine, the participant would make gestures into a screen and the bubble screen would respond. Nearby spectators and their movement would also be captured in the station’s viewport to further enhance the experience. At the time of conception, we used a water droplet as the interactive object set for manipulation; plans to revive the large sea creature were in the works!
Special thanks to James Marsh, Richard Chou, and Adam Louie for organizing and submitting the proposal!
As designers, we’re educated to hone an arsenal of tools and skills to be prepared for every situation. Got a proposal to renovate 55,000 sf of a science building? Consider it done! Need to convince the ARB that your design is compelling? No problem! Inspire 48 fourth-graders to pursue a technical or design profession? Challenge accepted!
Through the Adopt-A-School program, the Baltimore office partnered with Brehms Lane Elementary, a public charter school of 650+ students. We began planning in February as our relationship with the school grew in the form of sponsoring their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) program. As we were already halfway through the school year, we decided that the best event to do would be a single-day STEAM Career Day to feature career directions in multiple technical fields.
Why not just architecture? Why five other different fields? Our goal was to showcase how design is everywhere and not just limited to a single field. As architecture is inherently design, we use the topic as a means to demonstrate how different fields are intertwined. We will be gearing our curriculum toward architecture in the next school year. We organized four stations to showcase careers and skills in each STEAM category, and directed an activity to exemplify what students may find themselves doing in that field:
|Science + Technology
||Homemade Lava Lamps
||K’NEX Gears & Wheels
We were extremely fortunate that a lot of teachers and older students came to volunteer and supervise the excitement. The principal, Diya Hafiz, stated that this was the first time an outside entity hosted an event for them and that the school was “blessed to have such an enriching experience for her kids.” The genuineness of those words made the months of planning and coordinating worth the huge volunteer effort the team put forth. Furthermore, enabling kids to explore and have them enjoy learning lets us remember the joy from our design jobs.
This was truly a learning experience for all of us in the Baltimore office, and we hope to continue making a positive impact in our community.
Briana Jones (right) encouraging scholars to test their ideas for new tessellations
Fourth grade STEAM Scholars folding origami space shuttles at the Art Station
STEAM Scholars creating brewing their own lava lamps with oil and Alka Seltzer