5) Becoming a Studio
This studio class is composed of 7 juniors, 5 seniors, and 1 graduate student. Many of us have never designed with other grade levels, let alone met each other, so to be able to spend 6 days with each other to not only work together, but to get to know each other was very beneficial for us in becoming a studio.
“I feel more close to this studio than my own class”

When boiled down, a studio is a team. A team requires communication and coordination. These were two skills that we needed to develop together in order to have a successful semester. I personally think that was achieved. Living with each other for six days, we were able to learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and even strange habits. Needless to say, we are prepared to work (and live) with each other for the remaining three months of our semester together.

On their third night, the students decided to have dinner together in an "unconventional space".

4) Understanding the Importance of Diversity

“Where’s everyone from?” This was a recurring question we were asked by the people we met with. Many of us immediately resorted to the obvious “New Jersey” answer, but soon were asked “but before that?” We had a diverse group with people coming from Macedonia, Brazil, Australia, and South Korea, and soon we began to learn how those places and our experiences affected the way we approach design.

As they walked through Midtown, the students found this sign outside a church.
This topic seemed particularly interesting with our new President’s position on foreign affairs. Here we were, a bunch of East Coasters coming into a city in the Midwest, with plans to redesign it. We hope that this semester teaches us the humility to listen to what people want for the place where they live --with open hearts and open minds--and know that our design interventions are the beginning of a conversation rather than “the answer.”

3) Working Outside of NJ

Junior, Andrew Rivera, and senior, Marta Goraczniak, look out their window during
one of the class' many car tours. These drive throughs were utilized when the
weather did not cooperate with the class' site visits.
We believe the scope of our schooling should go beyond our comfort zone. This is why we conduct case studies that allow us to research areas outside of New Jersey. However, many of our school projects have not extended beyond our Garden State before this class, so many of us jumped on this opportunity. Gaining exposure to different areas and their conditions before entering the job market is a great way of not only broadening your knowledge, but to also figure out what you want to do.

Detroit was particularly interesting because it wasn’t on the East Coast, and we heard it had an amazing cultural history. Analyzing a city on the border of another country gave a different context on how people move throughout their space. Although racial segregation is present in almost all parts of the country, many of us haven’t delved into it deeply as something to inspire our designs. The same goes for Detroit’s music scene.

2) Correcting Misconceptions

None of us had ever been to Detroit. We all had our own preconception of Detroit based on what we’ve seen from mainstream media and the internet. We were expecting abandoned buildings, constant police sirens, and a constant feeling of danger. From my recollection, I only remember hearing sirens three distinct times and saw one fire. I’ve seen more than that in New Brunswick, New Jersey in the span of three days (but then again I worked for a newspaper!). We saw thriving business, people coming back to Detroit, and an overall movement forward towards a better future. The point I want to emphasize is that Detroit is not the only city with dangerous areas.
Underneath New York’s Empire State facade, it too has poverty and crime. A main difference between these two is that the people of Detroit seemed more resilient towards the adversity they experienced. This leads into my next point.

This book was displayed outside the front window of Jason Hill's office property. We
 immediately connected with the quote after spending a few days in Detroit already.

1) Meeting the People

This encompasses almost all of the previous points. Meeting the people we are working with and designing for really helped give us a perspective of what they want, need, and what has to happen in order to project Detroit into a sustainable future.

We initially thought communicating with the locals might not be easy, but to our astonishment in our first interaction with a Detroiter, it was much easier talking to them than someone from New Jersey. The warm nature of Detroit carried on throughout our trip which made learning about it easier. It was made clear that no one was looking for the pity of others. They recognize the situation they are in and want to change it for the better. Many have taken that job in their own hands and in different forms. We have city planners working with politicians to ensure goals are met. There are people working at the neighborhood level trying to bring back what they used to be in their former glory. The people want a better future, and they are working for it.

If there’s anything we’ve learned so far, it’s to talk to people to find out about their lives and want they want for their future.  Listening is a powerful tool to be a good designer.

Senior Lorri Lindsay spoke with Angelou about his life story during a walk around Midtown.

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