UH Interior Architecture Students Design Future Fifth Ward Community Center

Many residents of the Fifth Ward have no doubt passed by the aging storage building that sits near Olivet Missionary Baptist Church (3115 Lyons Ave.). The vacant edifice has seen better days, but thanks to University of Houston architecture students, it will have a new purpose in the community.

Students in UH’s Interior Architecture Design Build Studio (led by instructors Jason Logan and Josh Robbins) recently developed designs for a truss that would support the existing building and serve as a foundation for a new community center.

Community members can learn more about the project and actually step inside the student-created structure. The exhibition “Inside/Out: Adapting a Shotgun Storehouse for the Fifth Ward” is on view in the UH Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture’s atrium through Sept. 4. On Sept. 3, Logan and Robbins will discuss the project during a lecture at the college. Joining them will be collaborator Susan Rogers, director of UH’s Community Design Resource Center. The lecture begins at 6 p.m. and a reception will follow at 7 p.m.

The student-constructed truss will be relocated and erected inside the current storehouse. The goal, said Logan, is for the building to host a makeshift library that is open to community members. It also would be a venue for events in the neighborhood.

The opportunity to transplant students’ architectural talents into the community came about when Robert Thomas, pastor of Olivet Church, alerted UH architecture faculty to his vision for the neglected storehouse. Logan and Robbins then offered students the opportunity to contribute designs to a real-world project that would have a lasting impact on the community.

“The idea was that this existing structure would need to be reinforced from the inside,” Logan said. “We asked the studio’s students to design a structure that could simultaneously create a new interior environment while bracing the present building.”

Three groups of students developed designs and presented them to Thomas and other constituents. The final design takes inspiration from the initial concepts. It is an A-framed structure (55 feet in length, 14 feet in width) that is just a few inches smaller than the storehouse – allowing it to fit perfectly inside. Constructed from pine with Birch plywood connections, the structure’s angular rafters will replace the storehouse’s current flat ceiling and allow natural light through corrugated polycarbonate panels.

“We knew that taking the current ceiling out would weaken the structure,” Logan said. “So, we challenged the students to develop designs that brace it and create new interior environments.”

The final installation of the student-created structure is to be determined. Both students and community members, however, are excited by the thought of transforming a ramshackle building into a useful community amenity.

“Everyone has been very enthusiastic,” Logan said. “At the onset, we knew that the project might play a small role in regenerating this neighborhood.  That made it more meaningful for our students … knowing that their hard work may have an impact in this community and on its residents.”

Logan and Robbins’ studio is part of the Interior Architecture program in UH’s Hines College of Architecture. The four-year undergraduate program explores the multidisciplinary aspects of interior architecture while providing students with studio courses focused on design principles specific to interior space.

The Community Design Resource Center – also based within the Hines College – works to enhance the communities throughout the Houston region through design, research, education and practice. The center addresses issues of community development, design, planning, affordable housing and civic projects in partnership with communities.

To learn more about UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, visit http://www.uh.edu/architecture/.