VOL. 10 NO. 3 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH WINTER 2000
STANDING FOR SOMETHING
Architecture students design and build bandstands for Park City residents as part of a new service-oriented course.
by Kathryn Austin Maksimov
It's late April 2000, the end of spring semester. While other students fill the library to study notes and pore over textbooks, 13 architecture students crawl over scaffolding on the patio behind the art and architecture building, completing their own version of a final exam.
Assembling enormous wooden structures might be an unusual way to earn a degree in architecture, where digital and small-scale models are the norm. But in a debut studio course, these students have been assigned the task of building three full-scale bandstands that reflect Park City's mining past and provide musicians from around the world a place to play. The final for this course does not require pencils and paper, but simply the determination to transform a design on paper into reality.
The project began when officials in Park City were grappling with controversy over outdoor music. Not every local was a fan of the city's open-air music venues during the 1999 summer season. Despite big turnouts for performances at the Summer Watch Plaza, City Park, and the deck of the Town Lift, a vocal minority opposed the noise of the summer music. After various town meetings, a compromise solution emerged, aimed at appeasing those who were against outdoor music and pleasing those who supported the live performances.
Randy Barton BS'75, a Park City music lover, proposed constructing platforms that would direct the music toward audiences and cut down the noise for neighbors. The local building community immediately referred him to Hank Louis MARC'87, who ran Form Fifteen Architecture in Park City for 12 years before heading the firm Gigaplex. Barton reports that Louis is known for his "unusual projects," such as the "Taco Lady" hanging from the ceiling of Salt Lake's Rio Grande Restaurant, Park City's Aquacade Marriott Complex, a modern building that uses heavy timbers to reference rustic mining architecture, and the Spiro Water Filtration Plant.
Louis, also a visiting instructor in the Graduate School of Architecture, saw the Park City bandstand project as a long-awaited opportunity. For several years, he and GSA Dean William Miller had been discussing the prospect of starting a design/build studio for graduate students of architecture. Design/build has become a common practice between architects and contractors on larger building sitessuch as the new Utah Museum of Fine Artsbut bringing the concept to the classroom, where students would create a project from paper to product, was entirely new for the U. "I'd like architecture students to have a hands-on experience out in the field," Louis explains. "I want them to learn two things: first, it's impossible to have every detail drawn, so design does not end with the drawing; and second, I want them to learn respect for contractors."
Louis's interest in design/build studios took him across the nation in pursuit of a program worthy of emulation. His search ended at Auburn University when he met Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee, who developed and maintains the "Rural Studio" 150 miles from Auburn's main campus. At the Rural Studio, architecture students design and build houses for the poorest residents of Hale County, Alabama.
"The plan for our course from the beginning was to focus on community projects," Louis explains, "and Mockbee's Rural Studio embodies that focus." He adds, "My goal is to do the same thing for poor residents in Bluff, Utah."
To encourage others to share his vision, Louis helped bring Mockbee to the U as the speaker for the 1998 Henrietta Johnson Louis Symposium on Architecture and Writing. Mockbee's speech centered on the role architects can and should take in communities. "I don't believe courage has gone out of the profession," Mockbee observed, "but [architects] tend to be narrow in the scope of our thinking and underestimate our moral responsibility that is, we have a duty to participate in the social, political, and environmental realities our clients and communities are facing.
"I think it's more important to look for noble people than to look for heroic actions, because even heroic actions are temporal," he said.
Just as Louis had hoped, Mockbee's fervor was contagious. "Through the work of the Auburn Rural Studio, we gain profound insight into the dignity architecture can and should provide all members of the human race, regardless of condition or status," Dean Miller says, adding that "we are reminded that architecture is an affirmative act in service to all."
Thus, the timing was right for Barton to suggest the Park City project. "We did the bandstands in Park City," Louis explains, "because there was a need. It was a win-win situation."
Louis's design/build studio for students in the fifth year of a six-year program began in January 2000 like any other design studioat the drawing table. The students were asked to submit designs reflecting Park City's mining past. Given the noise complaints, the students had to consider acoustics as well as structure and aesthetics. Louis invited an acoustical engineer to lecture to the students. "We tried to integrate his advice into our projects," student Ryan Naylor says, "but it wasn't entirely useful because the bandstands would be outdoors, where the placement of buildings and the chance of wind can interfere with even the best plans."
After several weeks of design, 16 proposed models were taken to Park City, where a council picked three to be built. Students discovered that working with clients and negotiating political issues were also learning experiences. "Here we were offering our time and our resources," student Dave Rasmussen explains, "and the city responded very cautiously. They questioned the plausibility of the project and considered the likelihood of more citizens complaining about the noise." As it turned out, because there are no codes or criteria for outdoor bandstands, the political environment of this project was unique for all involved. Even instructors were in for surprises as they attempted to navigate city expectations without a building code. "Who would have thought," Miller laughs, "that these bandstands would have so many political ramifications?"
Nevertheless, the project moved forward. The class was split into teams to review the chosen structures, make some compromises in design, and then begin building. Louis invited carpenters and contractors with truckloads of specialized tools to the site on the patio behind the architecture building, so the students had the expertise to support their ideas. They were given hands-on experience and were better able to understand the possibilities as well as the limitations their designs had posed.
But even with experts on hand, mistakes were made. Each day presented fresh challengeseverything from undesirable echoes to late shipments of material. "It took a lot of work just to make those bandstands stand," Rasmussen confides. To Louis's delight, the students were learning that decisions are being made every five minutes on a building site.
As Louis notes, "If the architect is not involved, then who makes those decisions?"
As construction progressed, the students were in for yet another surprise: a shortage of time. Long after grades had been posted in May, the three structures on the architecture patio remained unfinished. It was up to the students to come back and complete what they had started. Rasmussen explains, "We went in thinking that this would be like any other studio, where you can make excuses for an unfinished project at the end of the semester. But this time, we had a product that had to be finished." So the students came back. "We worked into June and early July to complete the bandstands," Naylor says. "It would have been easy for students to get angry about this, but most of us came back willingly for Hank."
Before the stages were transported to Park City, city council member Peg Bodell took a peek. "I think the city's going to be elated," she commented, describing the stages as authentic, safe, and artistic. "We couldn't have paid someone our usual budget and come up with something as wonderful as this," she added. "[The students] really do deserve a lot of credit."
In July the stages were christened with music in their permanent surroundingson the Plaza at Summit Watch, on Town Lift Plaza, and at Park City Mountain Resort. And although instructor and students alike continue to work on the acoustics, Barton reports an overwhelmingly positive response from locals.
With the Park City project now behind him, Louis is looking enthusiastically toward the future. This spring will find his design/build studio working with the Bennion Center on a building scheduled for construction on the Jordan River Parkway. Of course, this year the design stage of the course will start much earlier, allowing ample time to complete construction. Afterwards, it's on to Bluff, where Louis and his eager design/build students will construct housing for Native Americans living in poverty.
The Bluff project planned for spring 2002 has already had a positive effect on the community. By purchasing in advance a historic building to house students, Louis and his design/build studio made it possible for one Bluff resident to save his farm from development. It's only the first of the "affirmative acts" by soon-to-be architects in service to the community.
For more about Park City's outdoor musical program, contact Mountain Town Stages at (435) 901-SONG.
-Former Continuum intern Kathryn Austin Maksimov BA'00 is a full-time technical writer and a freelance feature writer.
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