Architecture professor David Gamble poses with a model his students created for a project designed to improve a vacant lot on Syracuse's West Side.
After Ward Baking Company on Syracuse's West Side was demolished four years ago, a barren lot was left behind. Now, thanks to the work of a group of students and School of Architecture professor David Gamble, the vacant lot may one day be reborn as an outdoor community center featuring an open-air pavilion. "This project had a lot of potential for every party involvedthe students, the University, the local residents, and the city," Gamble says. "It was too good an opportunity to pass up."|
The project began last fall as a volunteer effort for Gamble and 34 students. Sylvia Martinez-Daloia, SU's director of community relations and a member of the Spanish Action League on the West Side, contacted Gamble and captured his interest in the project. "I was impressed and thrilled that we could get the School of Architecture to work with the community," she says. "David and the students really came through."
Initially, they met with West Side residents and nonprofit community organizations to gather ideas and develop site plans. Working in teams, the students created drawings and site models for five proposals that they shared with residents in November. Through a series of surveys, community meetings, and public comment periods, two models emerged as favorites. In March, students presented their work to officials from the city's economic development office, who pledged $180,000 for the center. "It's in the city's interest that the West Side community makes the final decisions on the site," Gamble says. "A number of nonprofit groups have a stake in the neighborhood, so they'll decide what kind of community programs they want there. That will influence the final design."
Not long ago, Gamble would never have predicted that the project would evolve as it has. That was before a $24,800 Vision Fund grant from the University allowed him and the students to stick with the project beyond the initial phase and continue working on it through the spring semester. The $1 million Vision Fund is a new initiative that supports faculty efforts to pursue innovative ways of teaching. "The grant was absolutely critical to the project," says Gamble, who co-wrote the proposal with Pam Heintz, director of SU's Center for Public and Community Service. "Otherwise, the site might remain vacant indefinitely and the neighborhood would continue to deteriorate. The public plaza and community pavilion have the potential to act as a focus for the residents and a catalyst for development there."
Gamble also used the grant to establish the Community Design Center (CDC) in the School of Architecture. With the West Side initiative serving as its pilot project, the CDC will assist with similar projects using an interdisciplinary approach that taps into the expertise of an advisory council composed of faculty members from across campus. The center has six potential projects lined up for the fall semester, including the possible expansion of an arts center and the design of a new building for a local school.
For students, the project was a learning experience from day one. They collaborated among themselves and with different groups, worked within budget guidelines, and learned about the interaction between government and its constituents."It was good to work for the real world," says architecture student Maria Agostini G'99. "The tight budget was a challenge."
That's exactly what Gamble wanted students to learn. "They realized the real world has constraintsthey had to think about what they could build with the money available," he says. "Architects must be informed about other disciplines that have an impact on their profession. Economics and politics play into design. The more students are aware of that, the more empowered they will be."
Gamble, who joined the School of Architecture in September 1997, wants the CDC to embrace teamwork and hopes its workshops will eventually include students from such fields as law, public policy, and geography. First-year architecture student Nick Saponara credits Gamble with easing his transition into the discipline. "He goes out of his way to make sure you're getting the most out of the experience," Saponara says.
And that shouldn't be a surprise, since Gamble places great value on educational experiences. "It's important to look outside your area of study," he says. "Everyone can learn from each other."