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Design by Complaint: FIU Student Charrette — 3/20/14

Posted by Andrea Gollin, filed under Student Exhibition


The culprit: this pavilion is the focus of the FIU student charrette.

The complaint? The pavilion at the western intersection of Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, which FIU’s Department of Architecture calls “One of the most disappointing public spaces at the most important intersection of Miami Beach.” Why so disappointing? “There you will find trash-filled pools of water, busted concrete curbs, dying vegetation, and the Carlos Zapata–designed pavilion that will decapitate anyone on roller blades…[it is] a makeshift shelter for the homeless, high-priced urinal, and skateboard ramp. Locals despite the controversial eyesore,” according to the Department of Architecture.

The solution? Going beyond the obvious (don’t rollerblade anywhere near there), in conjunction with Power of Design, thirty interdisciplinary teams of FIU architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design students—about 150 students in all—conducted a two-week charrette, or intensive design process, during their spring semester to brainstorm alternatives.

The student teams came up with a range of creative solutions—from making the space interactive and populating it with touch-sensitive balloon-like LEDs to creating a lush and sustainable green space that doubles as a human waste processing facility. The proposals were entered into a competition, and the winners are displayed at FIU’s Miami Beach Urban Design Studios during Power of Design.

The Department of Architecture holds a spring charrette each year. The process is an “invaluable experience” for the students, says Jason Chandler, chair of the Department of Architecture. “A charrette is not just you in a room. This is a collaborative process for our students. The challenge of negotiating their ideas among a group is very helpful. And when our students come at the end and see all of the other ideas from the other teams, it’s a very important learning experience,” he says.

The pavilion in question, by Carlos Zapata, in 1997 replaced an earlier pavilion by Morris Lapidus, the original architect of Lincoln Road. The pavilion was chosen as the focus of the charrette in part because it is located close to the entrance of FIU’s Miami Beach Urban Design Studios, and seems to have struck a negative chord with many FIU architecture professors and students. "We are tenants of this project in a way," Chandler notes.

Students were tasked with proposing an alternative to the pavilion that would animate the space and would transform as people progress through it. Students were also asked to propose ways in which people could navigate the site without vision—“we asked them not only to look at the site, but think of it non-visually, to consider what it sounds like, what it feels like,” explains Nick Gelpi, assistant professor of architecture at FIU and the charrette’s faculty advisor. He describes the two-week period as “extremely intense,” a time during which students had to formulate and draw their idea and also build a prototype out of plywood. This was the first year that students built the mock-ups, and they added a great deal to the experience, Gelpi says, because they help the students test their ideas. “You draw and you build and then you redraw. The mock-up provides a certain amount of feedback. What you build affects how you design.”

For the charrette competition, each student team had three minutes to present their projects, which were judged by five jurors, all architecture professors except for The Wolfsonian’s curator Silvia Barisione. The jury considered all aspects of the project, from the ideas and physical prototype to the quality of the presentation itself.  

The end result? “The students gained an understanding of why it's not enough to just build something and put it someplace. In the case of this pavilion, there are serious complaints about how it is used, how it affects the environment, and how it interacts with the city. We asked the students to come up with something better. The projects were good. There were some very interesting ideas,” Gelpi says. See for yourself—images of the winning projects and honorable mentions appear below.

First place: The Amoeba/Tactile Installation at Lincoln Road and Washington Avenue. Student team: Anabel Mendt, Carolina Papale, Italo Perez, Jasha Salas. Instructor: Michael Repovich.


Second place: Balloonia. Student team: Anica Lompre, Eileen Nunes, Joaquin Pineda, Miguel Pio, Kurt Shubert. Instructor: Brett Moss.

Third place (tie): Waste/Poop Team. Students: Vanessa Salcedo, Jackie Rowe, Yanelys Rosua, Jaime Vado, Kevin Vildasola. Instructor: Olivia Ramos.


Third place (tie): Steps and Swings. Students: Aileen Zeigen, Jihan El Abbadi, Patricia Saucedo, Edgardo Betancourt. Instructor: Brett Moss.
Honorable mention: Ventus Pavilion. Students: Ruth Brooks, Dominique Chalmers, Ivie Ijewere, Eliana Izza, Tatiana Ovalle. Instructor: Cynthia Ottchen.
Honorable mention: Transitional Ribs. Students: Maria de Fatima Montoya, Anyeli Silva, Kevin Tenor, Jesus Vega. Instructor: Gianno Feoli.

Honorable mention: V.E.R./To See. Students: Haley Perry, Carly Kruger, Dianne Lander, Andrea Rivera. Instructor: Mark Marine.
Mock-up for Ventus Pavilion (honorable mention), under construction.


Andrea Gollin is a writer/editor for special projects for The Wolfsonian, including the Power of Design website and blog.