Not unlike Cougar Country, the Bayou City is growing at an amazing pace. New communities and commercial properties are being developed throughout the Houston area. Among those contributing to the city’s evolving landscape are faculty and students from the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design.
Each semester, a variety of projects allows UH architecture students to take their ideas into Houston neighborhoods and contribute amenities for residents.
“It is very meaningful for students to work on projects that affect nearby communities,” said Patrick Peters, professor of architecture. “They not only learn about the intricate aspects of design and construction, they also gain the experience of working on projects that will play central roles in Houston neighborhoods.”
Peters leads UH’s Graduate Design/Build Studio (GDBS), which allows students to design and oversee the construction of community-enhancing structures. The studio has produced many projects for local schools that contribute to the learning process and offer spaces for socializing and studying. These include an outdoor amphitheater and classroom for T.H. Rogers School (for performances and lectures); a solar shade tree for McReynolds Middle School (perfect for science lessons); and a solar-powered learning space for Paul Revere Middle School (where students can study and have a shaded space to relax).
No matter how these structures are used, they all have made an impact on their respective campuses.
“Our amphitheater has completely transformed our campus. It’s the place to be,” said David Muzyka, principal of T.H. Rogers School. “I can’t say enough about Professor Peters and the graduate students who met with us numerous times to design a structure that serves our unique community needs.”
According to Muzyka, the structure hosts a variety of events, including remembrance ceremonies and other gatherings.
The latest GDBS project (guided by adjunct assistant professor Zui Ng while Peters was on sabbatical) is TWOFOLD at Lockhart Elementary School. This outdoor structure can be used as a classroom or as a space for relaxing with friends and family.
Among the students who worked to construct TWOFOLD was first year graduate architecture student Monica Rivas.
“It’s very exciting to know that something we’re creating will be used by community members,” she said. “I know that my grandfather is very excited that I’m helping create a permanent part of the city.”
Peters’ colleague Susan Rogers is another professor focused on promoting community change. Rogers leads UH’s Community Design Research Center, which works to enhance communities through design, research, education and practice. Every two years, the center leads the Collaborative Community Design Initiative (CCDI). Through CCDI, Rogers and students venture into Houston’s neighborhoods and engage with community members. They identify areas in need of growth and change and then propose solutions.
Through CCDI, Rogers has led students through a variety of projects designed to spark community transformations. These include a play zone for Houston’s De Zavala Park, painted areas on the concrete with games (four square, tic-tac-toe and others). Recently, Rogers’ students developed designs for a prospective urban farm that would be located in the city’s Sunnyside area. Partnering with nonprofit organization, Recipe for Success, students researched the community and shared their ideas with members of the community.
Rogers also recently collaborated with faculty and students from the college’s Interior Architecture Program (led by instructors Jason Logan and Josh Robbins) to revamp an aging storage building in the Fifth Ward. The plan is to redevelop this structure using a student-constructed truss and create a community center. The project’s design was unveiled in fall 2015 but has not been installed. Still, its potential to touch the lives of community members is exciting for everyone involved.
Rogers adds that such projects fuel students’ passions for contributing to their respective communities. Designing and building structures for Houstonians enhances the community, but these projects also build better architects.
“When projects are brought into our studios and classrooms that are intended to address a real need in the community, it changes the students’ perspectives,” she said. “Students are often inspired by the challenge of solving a real issue and learn firsthand what it means to work responsibly.”