Friday mornings are the days when I’d do my job for nothing (but don’t tell my Chair that…) SCI-TECH labs are always worth their weight in entertainment and, one hopes, in actual learning. I often say that this is the one chance students have to make things that aren’t beautiful, but this semester we’ve been lucky to have ace photographer and 2nd year student Sean Wittmeyer on the team, and the images he’s taken show that when structures are right (or when they fail really well), it’s pretty easy to make them look good.
Final reviews this week throughout the CoD DoA, including my Integrated Design Studio, who truly tackled one of the toughest sites we’ve ever dealt with. At the beginning of the term I gave them four downtown Chicago sites–two in the South Loop that were traditional corner lots, all right angles and traditional street fronts, one in the West Loop that would have made us think seriously about parking as a form generator, and DuSable Park, everyone’s favorite forgotten piece of land at the end of East Water Street, where the River sort of meets the Lake. Sort of. DuSable Park was their choice, even as I told them to think carefully…access wasn’t likely to be the only problem. The program, for an Experimental Music Center, was tough enough–three theaters of varying sizes, outdoor performance spaces, lobby, service, cafe, etc. But with difficult pedestrian and traffic access, not to mention the lack of a back door and the proximity of the Lake Shore Drive viaduct, the site proved to be a real bear.
The studio did great, of course. There were some really thoughtful approaches to continuing the Riverwalk around the shoreline and finding ways–bridges, visual axes, even a cable car–to connect to Navy Pier. The site lies directly on the desire line between the Pier and the Loop, and this became either a formal, circulatory, or visual generator for almost every scheme.
The auditoria designs, as usual, were bolstered by data-driven work in Ecotect to fine tune the acoustic shapes and surfaces within. This is amazing to me, as I got to see the forerunner of Ecotect’s acoustics module in Arup’s office about 20 years ago. At the time it took about three days and a six figure fee to get a reverberation model done. Today our students do it on their laptops in an hour or two.
Seeing the acoustics play out in real time is a powerful learning tool–you can visualize how the space is going to sound just like stick and node models show you how a structure is going to perform under loading. That kind of haptic learning is amazing to watch happen. But there’s all kinds of learning that goes on in a studio like this. Including, in the words of one ace young designer, “why the &$*# no one’s built anything on this site.”
Hire these guys. Seriously…