Student Projects Improve Campus Landscape
By Patrick Gage Kelley, The Tartan, April 26, 2010
For the 23rd year, Larry Cartwright’s Design and Construction course is working to improve the campus landscape. While right now the class’s work site is still a maze of yellow caution tape, wooden supports and frames, and a mass of moved earth, this is only the beginning of the park space that it will become.
This year’s project aims to memorialize Bill Brown, a professor in the biology department who died in July 2007. (Read more at www.thetartan.org/2007/4/30/news/brown.)
Francesca Fenzi, a sophomore in the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program, described the “focus of the space to be on collaboration, as this is something that Bill advocated.” The space, slated to be finished by commencement, is a two-tiered patio network based off a polygon design inspired by Brown’s work in biology. The space, which is just off the Mall, in front of Doherty Hall, will have benches and a table for students to sit, read, discuss, work, and most importantly collaborate.
Christopher Donlon, a senior in civil engineering and the on-site student foreman, said, “I think it is important for students to leave their mark on CMU’s campus ... and it’s an honor to be involved in this class and particular project.”
Students in Cartwright’s class have been leaving their mark on campussince the course’s first project in 1988. This project was the construction of a retaining wall and driveway for the Robotics Institute and was budgeted at only $3000. Over the last two decades, the projects have grown in scope and design freedom. In recent years projects have been more commonly allotted budgets in the $25,000 to $50,000 range and have included the Doherty stairs, Scotty’s Corner, both the Simon and Newell Memorials, and the WQED footbridge. Many of these sites have been completely absorbed into the fabric of campus, and it is likely that many campus community members are completely unaware that they represent the tireless work of Cartwright’s class over the last 23 years.
Fenzi said the site “in front of Scaife is probably my favorite, but also the most hidden,” while Donlon spoke highly of the Simon Memorial — a seating area and workspace set into the ground outside Baker Hall that was built in 2002.
“It fits so well into the CMU landscape and if you did not look close you would never notice it,” said Donlon. He also said “the class of 2008 did a great job with the deck added to the materials science department outside of Wean and Doherty on the Gates side.”
Ralph Horgan, Carnegie Mellon’s associate vice provost for Campus Design and Facility Development, says that “from a pragmatic perspective, Larry and his students have created low-cost improvements to public spaces on campus.”
Instead of requiring millions of dollars to be donated for construction, departments can entrust Cartwright and his students to improve a small part of campus, and give it a specific purpose like the Mellon College of Science has with their memorial to Brown.
Horgan said that when members of his team at Campus Design and Facility Development give tours of campus and they come across many of Cartwright’s projects, people inevitably question the decision to let students design and construct permanent projects. Horgan’s response: “We encourage it, because it’s Larry and his fourth year class. It’s part of the DNA here; we still make things.”
The class and its mission, which Horgan sees as part of the very essence of Carnegie Mellon, is firmly supported by the students. Donlon agreed, “this class is different from any other class I have ever taken at CMU and the hands on experience and learning is unbelievable,” he said. “It is a time commitment, but I enjoy spending time getting dirty and using some elbow grease.”
Fenzi also knows the course is unique, and while she wishes that more students could have these sorts of opportunities, she was quick to remind me that students can still have this opportunity as “Larry’s teaching the class next year so it’s not too late!”