Preserving Graduate Level Equivalency //
In March of 2013, a group of highly talented and motivated Architects and professionals from different disciplines nationwide assembled with aspirations to change the urban fabric of northwest Kansas City. As a collaborative, this newly formed organization has taken to coat tailing the work of initial pioneers in the area, NEAT(Northeast Alliance Together) and Mattie Rhodes Center, striving to generate a genuine advance in revitalizing this blighted region of Kansas City. As an initial step in this grand effort, el dorado inc was brought in to lead a massive planning study, recognized as Invest Northeast. The objective being to understand this region’s past, as well as exploring the possibilities of its bright future. “Invest Northeast is a collaborative effort focused on implementation of sustainable strategies that improve infrastructure and stimulate responsible economic development within the Historic Northeast communities of Kansas City.”
gaining exposure from street
Shortly after arriving to campus in the Fall of 2013, the studio learned of one of the projects we’d be working on for the duration of the academic year; a mobile office space for Hardesty Renaissance, in cooperation with AAFE (Asian Americans for Equality). AAFE, a non-profit organization rooted in New York, had interests in establishing a presence in Kansas City, thus created Hardesty Renaissance to become their real estate development entity along Independence Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. This new office is sited in a former Quartermaster’s warehouse facility on an 18-acre brownfield site in the heart of the northwest corridor on Independence Avenue.
Accepting the premise behind the studio (taking responsibility for design through making) we quickly established communication with the client to define both our role and their needs. As aspiring young designers we began to push and pull the design every which way, conceptualizing the only rational solution to things in a “more is more” approach. Through developing conversation we began to understand that the space must be flexible and able to accommodate a variety of functions; large presentations, mixer events, gallery open houses as well as a typical work day. This new thinking lead to advancement in our designs with a clarity appropriate in giving this project the direction and integrity it yearned.
flexibility in usage; shown in both: typical work day; below:
As the fall semester progressed and our designs started to advance in promising directions, a rather sobering thought began to plague the studio morale. The basis was simple; we began to question our legitimacy and involvement in the project. For all intents and purposes, it seemed as though we were doing nothing more than creating furniture for a rather small office, housing no more than two or three permanent users. Workflow certainly differed from the ambitious design work that encompassed the projects in our earlier years as undergraduate designers. We began to question the integrity of the design problem, viewing it as a seemingly rudimentary process for a group of fifth year graduate students, seeking their Masters in Architecture upon graduation in May. As these thoughts grew publicity, our professor, David Dowell of el dorado inc, instilled his due diligence as a scholarly advisor and ensured us our involvement was significantly more important than our apprehensions, simply building office furniture. These assurances gained merit as the semester unfolded and corralled studio spirit, generating a newfound fervor in designing with purpose.
The first week in December of 2013 altered the studio culture immensely. We were privileged enough to take part in the ground breaking ceremony at Hardesty Renaissance, the future home of our in-progress office design. Present at this ceremony were people from all over the city and a plethora of backgrounds, including; politicians, lawyers, business owners, property owners, land developers, elected officials and architects alike. It was here that our involvement developed a clarity and assurance previously unknown. These assurances found merit after multiple city officials and the President and CEO of AAFE approached our group, and with zeal and excitement, explained their passion and visions for not only our project, but the entire revitalization efforts in Northeast Kansas City. Until this point we hadn’t yet gained a full grasp on the grandeur and significance of our involvement in this overall process. At first glance, this project seems out of scale for a typical graduate architecture students thesis project, but after tireless effort put forth in understanding the project at a deeper level, its benefits are unparalleled to the traditional scholastic realm of education. This studio structure allows us to be involved in all components of the design process(budget, prototyping, client relations, situational constraints, etc) typically not ventured in the scholastic world.
Stepping back to look at the big picture, the magnitude of our involvement in this effort is unmistakable. This soon to be implemented mobile office, designed by a handful of aspiring Architectural graduate students, will be the initial step in a massive revitalization effort in Northeast Kansas City. The hope is that this office will initiate a promising catalyst case study, exploring the feasibility in aggressively developing a once brownfield site. Our desire is that this project will not only exist as an immeasurable experience for us in the studio, but will also serve the needs of Hardesty Renaissance and this advancing movement along Independence Avenue.Needless to say, the studio is energized and feel extremely fortunate in getting the opportunity to work alongside, and be apart of such an inspiring movement.
Written by Cory Meyer