February 2016, Volume 20, Number 1


Signs of Success

Young architects and designers often need to learn the subtle art of negotiation in addition to mastering the creative and academic aspects of their fields. The most brilliant artistic idea won’t make it off the drawing board to become reality without rounds of approval from the boss and the client.

To help teach these skills, Architecture Professor Dr. Lyle D. Culver martialed the students in his Materials and Construction course to upgrade the signage in MDC’s Environmental Center at Kendall Campus last semester.

“This project is rooted in design-based learning,” Culver said. “In other words, it’s learn by doing.” To that end, the arc of the project included the real world back and forth the students will face professionally. And this was not just an entrance sign, but a series of display pieces to describe the many features of the nine-acre preserve, which includes a medicinal garden, pine rocklands and a Visitor Center that earned LEED Platinum certification, the highest standard awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“The students worked in teams, and I had them meet first with a naturalist at the Center to learn about the site for their signage.” They then came up with concepts, developed a prototype, met again with the naturalist for feedback, reworked their designs, and presented their final proposals to Culver and the Environmental Center for approval before beginning the actual construction.

Part of the success stemmed from coming up with innovations that made the designs germane to the areas where they would be placed. The signage for the medicinal garden, for instance, had a cement stucco facing that included a mortar and pestle feature, which could actually be used to grind herbs. Others mimicked an appropriate biomorphic shape, plywood wings for the butterfly garden, or the silhouette of an iguana for the resident reptile. The students used the Kendall Campus architecture woodshop to do their carpentry and concrete work.

“The students employed a wide variety of materials and built everything themselves using raw materials,” Culver reported. “It was an involved project, but the students really came though and the results were impressive.”

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