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Change by design

In five weeks, teams of students from the School of Architecture designed and built four unique projects for East Austin residents.

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Can good design better a community in just five weeks?

This summer, a couple dozen students from the School of Architecture, under the leadership of Barbara Brown Wilson, director of the Center for Sustainable Development, and Bryan Bell, a visiting professor and director of Design Corps, set out to answer that question.

As part of the first-ever, five-week Public Interest Design course, student teams met with East Austin residents, nonprofits and members of the City of Austin’s offices of Sustainability and Public Works, to identify four unique design projects that could benefit East Austin communities.

The projects varied in size and scope, but their purposes were unified — to have a positive impact on the residents with which they worked and to provide designs that could be modified and utilized by various members of the larger community.

At the culmination of the five-week course, the public was invited to an “alley blitz” party where they could view the four projects and watch the last-minute frenzy accompanying their completion.

Project 1: Greening the alleyways

Eight cities across the country have “alley greening” programs to reclaim forgotten spaces that constitute up to 20 percent of a city’s footprint. Austin is aspiring to join their ranks. A team of eight students created attractive address markers and artistic pavement markings to give an alley identity, while also creating spatial organization and abating traffic and crime. While these particular interventions were guided by resident preference, the students also worked with the city’s offices of Public Works and Sustainability to create a toolkit that presents a range of options to inspire other neighborhood groups to begin similar interventions in their alley.

Project 2: Mobile farm stand

Working with 5 Mile Farms owner Randy Jewart, ten students designed and built a large mobile farm stand as well as a smaller farm stand that can be transported by bike, in an effort to help raise awareness of the sustainable micro-farm concept and to provide convenient ways to transport and display fresh produce to neighborhoods lacking in hyper-local produce. 5 Mile Farms is an urban farming initiative that transforms underutilized yard space in various Austin neighborhoods into productive gardens. The farm encourages and empowers visitors to become part of Austin’s local food movement.

Project 3: Storage shed with attached chicken coop

Outdoor storage has been identified as a key necessity for Austin residents by individual homeowners and low-income housing corporations alike. Working with residents of a duplex managed by the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, a six-person team designed a “core unit” shed out of repurposed pallets to store tools, ladders and lawn equipment. The structure also supports a chicken coop, but the students developed additional designs for rainwater collection, shaded seating and clotheslines for other potential clients. The shed design is simple and meant to accommodate a variety of design variances for future models.

Project 4: Landscaped modular fence and sitting area

Restoring community character and improving public and private spaces within the Guadalupe neighborhood is imperative to the preservation of this historic community. The homeowners were interested in opening up their backyards and creating a warm, welcoming space where neighbors can gather that also honored the historical legacy of their neighborhood. A team of five students created a landscaped modular fence and sitting area made with materials repurposed from homes being renovated or torn down in the neighborhood.