Students lend a hand in Clothier redevelopment
With many courses offered at the University, group projects are a major component to a student's grade. But in a Landscape Architecture course offered at Rutgers during spring 2007, students had to do more with their presentations than try to impress their professor.
The efforts of the design class, alongside constructive feedback from the residents of Clothier Hall, assisted the Clothier Hall Courtyard Project team in finalizing plans for a renovated courtyard that came to fruition 15 months later, said Steve Dubiago, the associate director of Housing Operations.
"The most interesting aspect of the project was linking academics with the professional sector," Dubiago said. "This was a win-win for the University community as a whole."
Upon the completion of an underground water piping upgrade to Clothier Hall on the College Avenue campus, University Housing and Larry Porter from Facilities Planning, in conjunction with Residence Life, developed a game plan for an improvement, since the space between Clothier and Hegeman halls had no particular order or pattern at the time.
When the team presented the idea to Professors Wolfram Höfer and Richard Bartolone of the Department of Landscape Architecture, the professors considered how a landscape architect might accommodate a student's need for a homelike, outdoor space.
"How do students experience their open space around the dorms — the places they live? These are important questions for campus life," Höfer said. "It is an important question also for landscape architects because we prepare sites for life."
He said the class of 22 sophomore students worked in groups to consider how the site could function as an entrance to the housing office, as well as an outdoor space that would provide opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities.
The class discussed the understanding of the relation to adjacent open spaces, documented existing conditions and therein developed a spatial program for uses, Höfer said. On this base, he said each group then developed a design proposal.
Seven groups of students drew up plans for an innovative courtyard and presented their ideas to Clothier residents for discussion and voting. Höfer said while there was no one winning idea, it was a chance for students to face a real client as an academic exercise.
"The point of facing a real client is that we have on the one hand the housing authority but also the students' living," Höfer said. "Even if it's sophomore students, it's so much a different perspective if you look at it as your own place, or if you are learning to become a professional, to look at it on a professional perspective."
To accommodate the class's clients, the class, and eventually Porter, the University's own landscape architect, developed plans to construct usable open space for student activities, social gathering or independent relaxing time.
One possible client, Cheryl Chang, a Rutgers College junior and Clothier resident during her first year at the University, said during the time she lived in Clothier, the courtyard was used primarily for smoking. She said the courtyard reconstruction now gives students an outside, common area to mingle.
"When there are a lot people outside and there is a lot of commotion, that adds to the real ‘college experience' and allows students to meet new people," Chang said.
Esha Chabra, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and current Clothier resident, said since the reconstruction, every time she walks toward Clothier she is happy to see students socializing outside.
"Whether they are just sitting and hanging out, or people are smoking hookah [or] eating their lunch, it is just a nice feeling to see people outside your building," Chabra said.
She said in addition to providing students with an opportunity to socialize and make new friends, the atmospheric courtyard provides the opportunity to explore hosting a variety of social events.
"The other day the RAs put a white sheet on the wall and had a movie playing outside, which was really nice because a lot of people were sitting on the grass or laying down, and it was a really chill thing," Chabra said.
Dubiago confirmed a positive student reaction to the exterior landscaping change. He said University Housing's investment to commit dedicated resources would directly benefit students and improve campus aesthetics.
He said based on whether a location selection is feasible, provides benefit and creates an impact, other locations are currently being considered for similar landscaping improvements.
"It is anticipated the University Housing and University Planning would consider working in conjunction with the student design groups on future site improvements," Dubiago said.
Höfer said finding real sites for a design exercise is really valuable to landscape architecture students, and the effort was a beneficial collaboration for all parties involves and affected.
"Now it actually is a well-designed courtyard," Höfer said. "Before that, it was just a bare, open space. It was a great improvement, and Larry Porter did a great job."