Students at Carnegie Mellon University have been working with residents and stakeholders in Pittsburgh's Homewood community to help them — literally — build their positive vision for the future.
Through a series of meetings, the idea emerged for Café 524. It's a project of the university's Urban Design Build Studio (UDBS), designed to address Homewood's social, business, economic and community development needs.
"Together we identified the need for a 'third space' in Homewood, somewhere other than home or work that people can gather, relax, and have a conversation with their neighbors," explained Alise Kuwahara (A'11), who will spend the summer constructing the project with 10 other students and P.J. Dick., Inc.
Café 524 is expected to serve as a net-zero energy model that will showcase a geothermal energy system for others to study and re-create. It has gained support from the Urban Redevelopment Authority 100K and the Pittsburgh Foundation.
Among the project's key participants is Dr. John Wallace Jr., who is head of the Homewood Children's Village, a reverend in Homewood, and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
"Dr. Wallace has been instrumental in bringing all the right people to the table to make this happen," Kuwahara said.
The National Black MBA Association will develop a business support center on the second floor of the café. Its purpose will be to help develop existing businesses in the area, reach out to entrepreneurs, and oversee the operation of the cafe.
"We hope this project could be the catalyst to spur future development in Homewood," Kuwahara said.
The UDBS is a group of interdisciplinary students from the Urban Lab Studio in Carnegie Mellon's School of Architecture, who over the course of a year design and realize a project for a local Pittsburgh neighborhood. The mission of the UDBS is to develop regionally specific, climate-appropriate building technologies for neighborhoods of Allegheny County.
Leading the design and construction efforts of the café is Carnegie Mellon's John Folan, the T. David Fitz-Gibbon Professor of Architecture and director of the UDBS.
"The overall project budget is $1.2 million and it's our aspiration to complete the project for the community. That involves multiple partnerships that are still forming," Folan said. "We will be pre-fabricating a major component of the project this summer, but the project will most likely not be completed until spring or summer 2011, pending the acquisition of full funding and the development of all partnerships."
Folan noted the partnerships with Dr. John Wallace and the National Black MBA Association have been key to the progress that has been made so far.
"Their efforts cannot be recognized enough. The UDBS is a conduit for implementing vision — if the clients and residents are not there to steer the ship, the UDBS can't work, " he said.
Folan's personal hope is that the students come away understanding that being given an opportunity to effect the physical environment is a tremendous privilege, one that they should never take lightly.
"The projects are real; they must be delivered on time, on budget, and the students must navigate the opposing territories of public and private interest — which are often at odds," he said. "All of these factors force the students to test their personal and professional ethics, which is invaluable in preparing them for the future."
Image rendered by the 2010 Urban Design Build Studio