Architecture professor creates fresh ideas for communities

By The Mercury

One man’s idea is proving to be a winner. Credit Todd Gabbard for thinking “what if ...” and following up on a real-life opportunity for students in Kansas State University’s College of Architecture, Planning and Design and a boost for three Kansas communities.

Gabbard, an associate professor of architecture, invited local development groups to collaborate with his students, all Master of Architecture candidates, for a fresh look at challenges and opportunities in their communities.

In planning the yearlong studio class, Gabbard sought to add value that could mimic the demands and experiences new graduates will face during required internships as they begin their careers. The professor had to provide structure and guidance for the students and their projects, yet also allow students room to grow and time to test real-life experiences in their chosen profession.

The idea sparked interest among several communities, including Colby, Cuba and Eureka.

The studio class encourages creative thinking, problem-solving and opportunities to develop new ideas, Gabbard said. Students met and worked with a variety of individuals, which is similar to meeting new clients, identifying their needs, working through issues and building relationships that will lead to successful collaborations.

The class offers a unique resource for participating communities that can have difficulty visualizing change, Gabbard said, adding that students can evaluate a community with fresh eyes and imagination. In doing so, they also have to face reality, in that small communities typically have limited resources that will call for still more creativity.

The eight students choosing the Eureka studio greeted the opportunity with enthusiasm, which, according to Larry Coleman, a member of the collaborative community and economic development team in Eureka, was contagious.

Coleman, who left the Wichita area several years ago for employment as an architectural designer in Los Angeles, Calif., with a later career move to Seattle, Wash., said he and his wife were seeking a community with Midwestern values and chose to retire in Eureka.

Coleman said that like many small towns, Eureka is a shadow of its former self, but “that doesn’t mean that it can’t have a future.”

He gives the Kansas State University students high marks for their work.

The students walked and/or biked every street to get to know the community.

Coleman was impressed with the results of the students’ work, especially with student Josh Goldstein’s plans for a former school.

Goldstein, Denver, Colo., believes adaptive reuse of the school could make it Eureka’s strongest public space and offered what he called a bold solution to unused infrastructure and lack of public space that other towns might emulate.

Goldstein also has developed a plan for revitalizing the community’s Main Street, in which seven blocks are refocused to enhance the pedestrian experience with the addition of sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, gardens and new trees.

The goal is to engage the community socially while also encouraging community health, Goldstein said. His design also includes permeable surfaces to allow storm runoff to enter the groundwater system.

Coleman referred to Goldstein’s drawings for the neighborhood center and Main Street projects as “catalysts for activity and improvement,” and said that Goldstein has introduced creative ways to bring residents together and build community.

The same is true for all of the students’ projects, he said.

Kate Connelly’s envisions Eureka Downs, a former racetrack, as a campus for a rural education center.

The track is close to the high school and the highway. Connelly, Kansas City, Mo., headlined her project as “The Eureka Innovation Center.” She suggested the collaborative educational center — with local and regional partners — as a candidate for career development in agricultural sciences, business, accounting and computer technology; training for careers in plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling and air-conditioning; as a fabrication lab; and for equestrian science.

When hearing of Connelly’s vision for the former track, Cindy Pereira, director of economic development in Greenwood County — in which Eureka is located — and president of the Eureka Foundation, was wowed.

“I never would have thought of that,” said Pereira, who chose to move to the Fall River Lake area after retiring from a career with Westar Energy in Wichita.

Other students participating in the Eureka Studio shared their vision for the community in a variety of ways:

David Bartlett, Derby, made the city’s train depot as his focal point for renewal. “It’s centrally located,” he said. Bartlett also suggested creating accessible walking paths similar to the rails to trails effort elsewhere in the state to create activity in and around the former hub. He also suggested a family-friendly playground. “Community development is similar to a puzzle; stakeholders may have to rearrange the pieces to get results,” he said.

Scott Davis, El Dorado, shared responsibilities for developing affordable housing with a fellow student. He also designed a “creek house,” a house on a former railroad bridge over a creek. The home’s sustainable design with passive cooling and solar orientation is evolving as classmates also enjoy making suggestions.

Justin Hodge, Junction City, zeroed in on reducing energy consumption, improving housing. He also suggested retrofitting an 1890-era home as a model home to demonstrate improvements and cost-benefits within the community.

Austin Walter, Shawnee, applied his interest in public housing and public interest design to his work on green infrastructure and its impact on quality of life.

He recommended expanded spaces for recreation, including a new park north of U.S. Highway 54, a green belt surrounding the city, and walking trails that will make the community more pedestrian-friendly, while also enhancing the sense of community and promoting community health.

Winston Wolf, New Melle, Mo., directed his energies to appealing, energy-efficient and affordable housing. In researching the concept, Wolf reported that land values and housing prices were declining, while interest in living in the Midwest, including smaller communities, seems to be growing.

The challenge, he said, is to design a new house that will work for young families as well as older adults who are downsizing.

Vera Smirnova, a Fulbright Scholar at the university from Vologda, Russia, did a theoretical study about why a community declines; the need to explore opportunities to bring industries that will promote growth; and small, instrumental changes that can generate interest and bring change.

She said that cities are dynamic complex systems, and that the need to encourage change begins from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

Her four-step approach includes a system analysis; simulation of the process; determination of a critical approach, followed by determination of new attractors for a system that will generate new qualities.

Haley Goldstein, senior in graphic design, Fredonia, served as graphic designer for posters, presentations and logo development for the Eureka project.

Cuba and Colby are also benefiting from the studio class.

In visiting Cuba and talking with residents, Andrew Oliver, Overland Park, opted to develop a master plan to freshen Main Street first, and suggested beginning with landscaping at the city office and post office, which serve as the gateway to the community.

His master plan includes a community plaza with picnic shelter, sand volleyball court, schoolhouse garden and adjoining walking trails to encourage community activities and health.

Dale Huncovsky, who operates Cuba’s grocery store with his wife, said that the community was really pleased with Oliver’s interest in getting to know them before developing ideas and the design.

“We’ve wanted to do something, but didn’t know where to start,” Huncovsky said, adding that the community will follow Oliver’s suggestion and begin with the landscaping.

Garrett Kilbride, Rolling Meadows, Ill., focused on housing. Kilbride designed two variations: one for Eureka and one for Cuba.

In describing Kilbride’s design, Todd Gabbard said that it blends modern sensibility, traditional bungalow vernacular and Japanese space-efficient design.

Chelsea Hayes, Arvada, Colo., worked in the Colby studio.

Community reps challenged her to design a family-friendly outdoor amphitheater that can be accessed from walking trails and bike paths.

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