Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Archi-treasures Design Charette at Legends South

I recently had the opportunity to participate in one of Archi-treasures' community charettes. This one took place at a mixed-income community called Legends South located at about the 4000 block of S. State St. Archi-treasures has worked with Legends South once before which is nice for two reasons; they were familiar with the community, and there was lots to do since they had only worked with them once before.

The event was well organized, after 13 years they have it down to a tee. Coffee and donuts were a welcome provision to keep our energy levels up through the morning. We started with table introductions. The residents at my table ranged in age from high school students to a lady whose age I won't attempt to guess for fear of retribution. But, overall I would say there was a great sampling of ages from early grade school to grandparents.

We then moved on to site analysis, beginning by ensuring everyone knew how to read the site plan provided. Asking team members to identify their homes is a good start. From here we identified the site elements we liked and disliked, and then proceeded to a brainstorming session of ideas for elements to be built.

The invited architects or artists are asked to facilitate versus create. The intent is to allow the community members to come up with the ideas while the architect or artist perhaps asks questions to help coax those ideas out. It’s easy to forget at first.

The brainstormed list was then prioritized and only then were the ideas drawn on paper by my team members. The drawings and maps needed to be presented by each team at the end. During the presentations a master list tallying the ideas was created and from there you could see, in some cases, many things repeated.

Archi-treasures uses this list to find the most popular (and buildable) items. These will be the things that get built over the summer work program and range in scope from mosaic stepping stones to benches to an outdoor projection stand and screen to view movies.
One of the nice things about this program is that youths from the community are hired to build the most popular (and feasible) projects over the summer. Many of the youths participating in the charette were also interviewing for one of these paid positions.

I really liked that the community members were engaged. For example, when I arrived, it was determined we wouldn't tour the site as we normally would due to rain. However, about an hour into the brainstorming session one of the members of my team asked if we would be willing to tough it out so she could get a better idea of the areas of the community we were talking about.

Archi-treasures doesn’t always work with residential communities. They’ve worked with schools and other public spaces with community groups. They also do some youth development projects by taking youths from some of these communities to UIC, for example. One of these communities is only a 5 minute walk from UIC and most of the youths have never been.

The communities Archi-treasures work with usually have some connection to a member of the board. For example, the firm of Landon Bone Baker was the architect for the Legends South development. Pete Landon participated in the charette and a representative of the developer was on hand as I’m sure they see the value of this type of community involvement.

Check out their website for more information on projects, photos, and upcoming volunteer opportunities. I’ll be posting photos of my experience soon so check back for that. Archi-treasures always has volunteer opportunities and another round of charettes is planned for later this summer. Keep an eye on the sidebar. Until then, you can purchase tickets and attend their fundraiser, Jewels in July happening on the 15th.

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