Given the opportunity to create anything they want for their thesis projects, most architecture students design such grand buildings as museums, art galleries, or other opulent public edifices. For her thesis, Candace Corbin 00 chose to design something few, if any, students have done before: housing for homeless people. And not just warehouse-like brick boxes of dreary apartments, but welcoming spaces "where people can have a sense of creating a place of their own, designed with flexibility, where they can once again become integrated into the community," Corbin says.
Corbins concern for the plight of homeless people began when she was a freshman in high school and her church youth group spent a week working with them in Chicago. "On the last day we were sent out without breakfast to beg for money or food," she says. "If anyone gave us something, we had to give it back and say we were just doing it to see what being homeless was like. It made a big impact on me and its always been something Ive wanted to change if I had the chance."
"Candaces thesis was not typical," says School of Architecture professor David Gamble, director of the schools Community Design Center and one of three faculty members on Corbins thesis committee. "Its just like Candace to focus on such a practical project. Her thesis was the embodiment of her ideals, and she truly invested in it."
While her thesis project was theoretical, Corbin also put her design skills to work in real-life situations, helping to improve conditions for people in low-income areas in Syracuse. She was involved in two projects with the Community Design Center: developing a site plan for an outdoor community center on Syracuses West Side, and planning the renovation or replacement of the Jowonio School, a private, nonprofit inclusive preschool and kindergarten program in Syracuse.
Corbin was one of 28 architecture students who formed into teams to create three proposals for a new Jowonio School. From there she became part of an interdisciplinary team of architecture, law, management, and policy studies students who developed a final proposal for the school. The project was then entered in the Chase Manhattan Bank Community Development Competition, which awards winning entries with thousands of funding dollars for their nonprofit sponsors.
"We prepared a packet on the project, with the idea that it was actually going to happen," says Corbin, a native of Jamaica whose family moved to the United States about nine years ago. "We worked out the design, budget, financeseverything. [Architecture graduate student] David Enriquez and I took the three schemes we came up with for the Jowonio School, assessed what people liked and didnt like in the schemes, then chose what we thought was the most feasible plan."
In April the team traveled to New York City and presented its proposal to Chase competition judges, who selected it as one of three finalists. The SU team returned to New York in May and received second-place honors and a $10,000 award for the Jowonio School, which will use the money to launch a capital campaign.
"I hope the $10,000 will start the ball rolling on the Jowonio School actually getting a new building," Corbin says. "The school building is 9,000 square feet and it needs at least another 16,000 square feet. The current building is two stories, which is a problem because there are kids in wheelchairs and no elevator. The teachers have to take children up and down the stairs. Its not a great building, but the people there are doing great work with these kids."
Corbin was accepted by a missionary organization to spend this summer in India working with a team of architects and engineers to design and build a school. She hopes her future as an architect includes work that benefits people in need. "Even if I have to go corporate, I hope to keep in touch with such organizations and take time off to do work like that," she says. "Or Id like to find employment in an organization where I can do what I like in design, but also do what I like in terms of helping people."