Being the Change

Art students design for the real (JMU) world

by Jan Gillis ('07)

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By Chris Edwards

THE TASK: Creating beautiful, sustainable, practical designs for three small campus sites. (To select these, says Institute for Visual Studies director David Ehrenpreis, "We went to Facilities Management and asked, 'What areas are you trying to figure out what to do with?'")

THE PERFORMERS: Student teams in Ronn Daniel's and Dawn Hachenski McCusker's Fall 2009 Environmental Design class.

ONE TEAM'S ANSWER: "Alluvial Gardens."

Seniors Phillip Gockel, Brittany Lyn Boveri and Emilia Randler, art majors in graphic design, designed their project for the small, uneven area bounded by athletic courts, a parking lot, railroad tracks below Duke Drive, and Black's Run below Hillcrest. It lacks pathways, but gets foot traffic … and sometimes, flooding.

Classmates' groups designed other projects for that area, as well as the Memorial Hall entrance and Bruce Street parking lot.

They each received "crits" during two visits from internationally noted artist/architect Michael Singer, IVS Fellow and project "catalyst," says Ehrenpreis. Environmental Design was one of a series of multidisciplinary classes held by IVS, each focusing beyond the classroom and culminating in public displays.

Phillip Gockel, Michael Singer, Emilia Randler

Students received critiques on their project work from internationally noted artist/architect Michael Singer, (l to r) Phillip Gockel, Michael Singer, Emilia Randler.

Alluvial Gardens features a walkway, garden area and stone terraces with raised sections for sitting. Spacing is intentionally uneven, says Randler. Gockel notes it directs water into Black's Run, away from nearby Mr. Chips. Considering varieties of both weather and color, Randler says Bovieri selected "hardy little plants" — butterfly bushes and sedum.

Facilities Management staff, including John Ventura and stormwater coordinator Abe Kauffman, stipulated needs and "kind of grounded the project," says Randler.

Now, in an independent study, the three designers are fine-tuning technical details, plus a budget. "We want to keep it affordable," says Randler.

In addition to sketches, their process booklet includes photos of the project temporarily mapped in blue tape across the ISAT building hallway, providing a feel for scale.

In visualizing ideas for their high-traffic area, the students cite inspiration from Singer's adaptations of designs to surroundings. Singer also made practical suggestions, such as acid treatment to encourage moss growth on cement, Randler said. Gockel added they considered permeable concrete until Singer warned it might not last well. So, "We used more of a channel system to redirect the water."

Each group presented, received feedback on, and revised its project, which was then shared again with Singer and exhibited in the IVS gallery. Last, the groups worked with environmental rhetoric students from the Institute for Stewardship of the Natural World (their projects' "client"), says Daniel. The projects became part of an environmental stewardship powerpoint, which the IVS and ISNW classes collaborated in presenting to officials including President Linwood Rose.

Phillip Gockel, David Ehrenpreis, Dr. Linwood Rose, Brittany Lyn Boveri

Projects became part of an environmental stewardship presentation to university officials including President Linwood Rose, (l to r) Phillip Gockel, David Ehrenpreis, Dr. Linwood Rose, Brittany Lyn Boveri.

Although students often consult each other, McCusker said, "to actually have to rely on each other for the success of the whole project was a difficult challenge," which students "met with pure professionalism."

Ehrenpreis said. "We raised the bar, and they went right over it."

Singer, who found their work "beyond my experience" of undergraduates, agrees: "Team interaction was the most challenging aspect." In the real world, he adds, "Autonomy is usually an earned position," and collaborative skill, a helpful asset.

He adds, "Each of the projects presented are at a 'conceptual design' level. If the class was a full year, I believe it would be beneficial for the students to further explore and develop their designs" — a suggestion the independent study is following.

Gockel hopes for a graphic design career. Randler, also interested in landscape architecture, hopes for further education or a design-related internship.

Employment as graphic designers for University Union, says Gockel, has shown them "The client-designer interaction can be frustrating, but most of the time it's a positive experience."

Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2018

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