Design and Planning Club joins students with diverse interests on common project goals

October 2, 2009

Students in diverse fields including architecture, city and regional planning, engineering, design and environmental analysis, landscape architecture, and interior design have come together in Cornell's Design and Planning Club.

The club began in spring 2007 as an academic collective to build bridges between design-based disciplines. Students collaborate on community-based projects, and the club helps facilitate their work together in regional, national and international design competitions for everything from sustainable heating and ventilation systems to national memorials.

"When we started off we did this visioning process [and found out] we wanted to do three things — outreach, competitions, and sharing knowledge about curriculum," said landscape architecture graduate student Christopher Hardy.

Students work together on outreach projects as part of DesignConnect, the club's design-based community service initiative, which brings students and upstate New York communities together to develop new ideas for local municipalities. Students receive academic credit and gain experience while providing a needed service to cities and towns.

Design Connect teams are working in conjunction with local officials on five projects, four in Elmira, and one in Cooperstown, New York. Teams work independently and team leaders report back to the club.

Architecture and interior design students are collaborating on a new vision for Elmira's 1895 City Hall to meet criteria for a healthy work environment and historic preservation. Two other Design Connect teams are working with the city and community members on a new program for Brand Park, site of an abandoned public pool.

A riverfront project team of planning, engineering, and landscape architecture students is researching possibilities for Elmira's downtown waterfront, including river access, refurbished parks and alternatives to a 30-foot wall built after the Chemung River flooded the city in 1972.

Another student team is investigating storm water management for a downtown parking lot and developing a strategy applicable to similar sites.

Students on the Gateway to Cooperstown project will develop a set of traffic-calming and pedestrian-friendly strategies to accompany infrastructure improvements to Route 28 at the edge of the village.

"Next year we may focus more on the Binghamton-Endicott corridor," Hardy said.

Said landscape architecture/regional planning graduate student Rita Kwong: "I think it's really important for students to get hands-on experience and to know what the real work environment is like. They can learn about the practical side of the design profession, not just design on paper. [The club] provides that connection between academia and the real world."

The club holds regular meetings and open discussion forums and hosts guest speakers including architects and planners.

"The meetings are quite full of content," said one of the club's advisers, Ann Forsyth of city and regional planning.

Members use the club's 240-member e-mail list to inform each other about projects, courses, design competitions, events, and opportunities of interest. Hardy was on a project team in Buffalo last year that placed second out of 233 teams in the Green Communities Design Competition. The club also hosted another team in North Philadelphia that won second place in the 2008 Ed Bacon Foundation Student Competition, Rebuild Revive.

Most activities and projects the club engages in are interdisciplinary and stress teamwork.

Active membership in the club has grown to more than 70 students over the past two years.

"This is probably one of the most successful attempts I've seen to bring all the design disciplines together in one group — and that's due mainly to the students," Forsyth said. "Students range from sophomores to doctoral students, meeting across all areas of study and levels of study."

For information on the Design and Planning Club and upcoming meetings, contact Hardy at

By Dan Aloi

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