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
I recently had the chance to attend and present at the NASPA Annual Conference, an event that joins over 7,000 student affairs educators and professionals to examine the latest trends affecting every aspect of student life. NASPA is the leading association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs profession, and this year was the 100th anniversary of the conference.
While I sat in on many important and thought-provoking sessions, two core themes resonated strongly with my fellow attendees and myself: the growing importance of inclusivity, and the changing needs surrounding student wellness.
In regards to inclusivity, conversations focused on gender bias, how institutions can best serve first-generation students, and how facilities can become welcoming and inclusive environments for students from non-traditional or non-majority backgrounds. From an architectural perspective, we’ve seen rudimentary adjustments within the physical space made to address these issues – think gender inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms. But presenters showed inclusivity is moving beyond that and into terms of academic performance. They expressed that more services and resources need to be made available (and are currently being developed) to students to support increasingly varying academic needs. How these services and resources will resonate within the physical space remains to be seen, but it is clear there will be no “one size fits all” solution.
The definition of wellness is also changing on campus. We once thought of it as represented by a singular person (a counselor) in a single, small space (an office) that students could visit if they needed help. It was a reactive process. But student needs are changing, and institutions are refocusing and recalibrating to adapt. There were a number of discussions about counseling – how institutions are struggling with the surge of services in demand. Speakers discussed how different institutions are trying to address this using a combination of traditional services, outsourced services and wellness programs, and reducing the demand on counselors. How activities like wellness walks, yoga, stress-relief events, etc. are becoming more norm. Wellness is becoming more focused on preventative methods versus reactive.
It can be hard as architects to wrap our heads around how inclusivity and student wellness will affect our industry and our designs. But as we try to understand, we also need to stay apart of the discussion and keep listening – to what our clients are asking for, to what students are saying, to what activists are promoting. It’s an exciting time for student life, and our facilities will soon reflect it.
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