On Friday, Sept. 30, nearly 300 architecture students from colleges and universities across the Northeast descended on Main Street in Warren, R.I. – the smallest town in the smallest state in the nation. As part of an ongoing downtown revitalization project, the students were invited to the Fall 2011 Northeast QUAD Conference to compete in a design charrette evaluating the Historic Downtown and providing design recommendations to town officials. Charrette, from the French word for “chariot,” refers to an intense period of work by an individual or group of people with a short deadline.
The students worked in small collaborative groups to complete a full redevelopment plan for the six blocks of Main St. between Market and Child Streets, including landscaping around buildings and the street patterns. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the assignment – aside from the four hours the students had to complete their plans – was the stakeholders’ request to find a solution that would bring visitors from the East Bay Bike Path (located East of Main St.) to the downtown businesses.
“It’s always a challenge for architects to balance everyone’s interests,” said Arnold Robinson, professor of historic preservation and director of the Community Partnership Center at RWU.
Add to that challenge a deadline that would make even professionals sweat under the collar. The students were given their assignment at 8:00 a.m.; final designs were due by 4:00 p.m., to be judged by a panel of Warren Town Council members.
Despite the looming deadline, students found the exercise creative and applicable to what they were working on in classes and design studios at their home schools:
“It’s my first actually hands on experience with the critique,” said Keene State College sophomore Jesse Couture. “I think that’s definitely benefiting me because it’s kind of similar to what we’re doing in class and studio right now, so I can take what I learn here and apply it to that.”
Students also noted the professional benefits of the QUAD Conference for their future endeavors. Penn State sophomore Kelsey Ross said that working with students from other schools illuminated new perspectives that she would not have encountered in her own studio.
“It’s really helpful to gain insight that other people have, and working with others to address this one problem creates a great network. Meeting new people from all over is amazing, because we’re going to end up working together in this profession someday.”
The design charrette kicked off a weekend of events for the Fall 2011 Northeast QUAD Conference, hosted by the Roger Williams University chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students. The conference included a keynote lecture by Larry Speck, a renowned 20th century American architecture and urbanism expert; a gallery presentation that included work from RWU students and students from the Rhode Island School of Design; and a Beaux Arts Ball at the Providence Steel Yard.