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Is This What We Signed Up For?:
Part One // Lannie Cowden


Based on the title of this blog I am sure that most, if not all, of my studio peers are laughing simply because I can probably be quoted several times throughout the two semesters asking this exact question. Most likely some will think I am just joking when I ask this, but as the semesters have rolled on it became a more common thought among quite a few of us. Mainly because walking into the fall semester we were all under the impression that we were designing and building one project and instead we are road tripping back and forth to Kansas City to take on the challenge of affordable housing. That's not where my question or concerns come from though. My concern is that often there was been a lot of open ended statements that got thrown around at the beginning of the school year. Since the original project statement fell through only weeks before the fall semester started I am sure all parties felt thrown and rushed into this project just like us. Which please don’t misunderstand my intention or purpose of what this blog post is about. This is simply my perspective on how the school year has gone so far. I am neither trying to complain or bash on any parties that are a part of this process. Although, I am still trying to fully absorb all this information being thrown our way, on a weekly basis, just like some of my peers.


Affordable housing in the Kansas City area is needed and has been mistreated for years. My thought is whether a dozen graduate students with no previous experience or knowledge was the best way to help answer the question? Some may say our studio is the perfect way to dive into a major discussion like this. Primarily because the thirteen of us have fresh eyes on past issues along with years of examples laid out in front of us. With the ability to search for information with the click of a button there is infinite amount of knowledge to be found. I mean with all that information floating around out there...there has to be a solution, right? But still, is that what I signed up to do for my final year at the university?


One thing I can usually confide in is the comfort of knowing that what I read in our project description at the beginning of a new semester is what the semester will hold. It’s one of the few norms that happen during the school year, that and knowing sleep is optional. Being able to adapt and strategically come to a new solution is always beneficial for personal growth, but is there an invisible line drawn out saying when these changes and obstacles can become a deception. Stress and confusion are usually a packaged deal when you are work on a studio project with multiple moving parts. But there has been so much miscommunication that one full day's worth of work can become worthless because not everyone is filled in when changes are made. This causes a lot of us to feel less involved or even needed to finish this project. While there is still plenty to do sometimes the desire to keep pushing forward is deluded because of that.


It has been said several times throughout the semester that our studio project will work as a “version 1.0”. Our project has turned into a type of “trial and observation” where it could work in the way that we are aiming for but with affordable housing being such a tangled web it most likely won’t. There are so many uncontrollable factors, generally in terms of costs, that can make this project become just another attempt. Which is not necessarily bad but it almost becomes frustrating thinking that we may or may not be answering the call for affordable housing.


The Design+Make studio has been filled with countless amounts of “real” word experience. By now I probably sound like I am just complaining about all the stress and headaches that have been attached to this school year, but it comes down to the process of how we have made it this far. This year's project to help with the need for affordable housing, in my opinion, can be looked at in two ways. One being a positive outlook on the long term affect our project will have for those in the Waldo area, which will help to alleviate the need for better housing. Then on the other hand, from a process perspective, the whole project steps on a few toes of ethics. From walking that fine line of “truth and tell” towards our communication between certain parties and whether our part in this project is simply for cost cuts or to actually start a generational movement within the Kansas City area. Then once you throw the want for a passing grade to graduate into the mix, which at times seems to be dangled in front of our faces, none of us want to take the time to truly stop and think about this. Instead we push forward trying not to slip up and must start over for the thirtieth time. There is nothing wrong with taking a step back and re working the problem but with an ongoing cycle of miscommunication and the continuous push backwards...are we really learning all that we hoped too from this studio?


There have been so many obstacles standing in our way during the entire design and production process. Ranging from understanding client’s needs and wants, to what code will allow us to do, and even learning a new skill of communicating with vendors and sponsors. All that I just stated is a benefit for our growing careers but with a race against the clock are we able to absorb and take the time to fully hone in on these skills. Instead I feel rushed to move from one task to the next without fully understanding why. Compared to other studios the thirteen of us have inherently adapted to this fast paced yet stand still thinking that we are helping the greater good by taking part in this project. Which most of the time I do believe that we are helping to start a movement, but as architects and students studying to be one there always seems to be this sense of self-righteousness that peeks out and overtakes us. Several times there have been conflict after conflict over the fight for power and ownership of this studio project. All this passive aggressive behavior, from most parties, brings in a lot of concerns in the lack of teamwork between all parties. We are all striving to finish this project by the time graduation comes around, but there must be a better way to accomplish this and without the fear of not having your voice heard or individuals acting as self-crowned rulers. It makes for a more difficult time, for everyone. Instead there should be a feeling of involvement during the whole process, unless you decide to single yourself out and do nothing. Since our studio seems to be the test run for future similar projects there needs to be a better strategy to accomplish it, and that is one question I can still not fully answer now.


The work we are doing here is substantial and should not be overlooked. We are all doing our best to make these two-dimensional drawings a reality, but if this studio is going to take on “version 2.0” then there are certain aspects that need to be re worked and fixed. By this point in the blog I have simply only stated the issues or concerns I have had within this studio, but I don’t quite want to answer them yet. There are so many different parties involved that I want to take the time to really dig deep into finding solution to make future projects like this more beneficial for all.  These are actual questions and concerns that should be brought to the surface. With more than half a semester to go still this is the time to really consider these questions and begin the dialogue to better advance this studio. I do believe that I have learned more than I ever could have in another studio. Although, at times I am still left wondering if I have gotten the most out of this experience. It may just be me that thinks way, but that's the beauty of a’s just an individual's opinion.

Written by Lannie Cowden

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