Design Week – Connecting Education and Practice

By Kurt Culbertson, FASLA, and Lake Douglas, FASLA

Design Workshop Partner, Mike Albert, reviews student presentations during Design Week at Oklahoma State University. / Image: Design Workshop
From the practitioner’s perspective

In 1998, I had the opportunity to participate in Design Week at my alma mater, Louisiana State University. Design Week, an LSU invention, was conceived as a one-week vertical studio engaging first year students through graduate students in a team project under the leadership of a practicing professional.  As conceived, the professional would assign the student a site and problem for which they had prepared a design. The students then have the opportunity to compare their efforts to that of the practitioner.

While I loved the concept of Design Week, it struck me that a lot of time was being spent by the students on a theoretical exercise.  Couldn’t all of this energy be put to a useful outcome for the public good as well as a learning exercise? I found a sixty-acre site on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River which was a gravel storage facility for barges that had traveled south to Louisiana right across the street from the state capitol complex in Baton Rouge. The property owner graciously agreed to let the student utilize their property as the subject of the study and the students set to work preparing a master plan for mixed use development of the site.  As a result of the student’s work, the property was developed much as the students envisioned.

To simulate the practice environment, a jury was assembled of the city/parish planning director, a state senator, and the property owner. Even the university chancellor dropped by the observe the progress of the work. The teams were judged on three categories: the quality of their design, the quality of their team work, and the quality of their presentation. Awards were given in of these categories and for best overall effort.

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