Posts in: TH240
Have you ever heard of a bowerbird? I certainly had not until our third night at Catamount when Marie showed us all a video about this intriguing family of birds. In short, they are a family of birds who create remarkably intricate bowers, or nests, in order to attract a mate. We learned that the plainer their feathers, the more elaborate their bowers. Once the male successfully lures the female to his bower, he then performs an elaborate mating dance, which oftentimes involves showing off certain key features of his bower, and from there the female decides if she would like to fly off into the woods with her new suitor or by herself. In the mean time though, the male must closely watch his bower out of fear that another male bowerbird may come and vandalize his space to increase his own chances of winning the female.
I happened to arrive at the showing of the documentary a few minutes after it had started because I had forgotten to bring a headlamp and struggled to make it to the bathhouse and back in time for the start of the movie. Rookie mistake. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, but I had no idea how it related to our class…until of course the movie ended and I learned that our class of 33 was going to break into small groups of all males and all females and build our own bowers.
At first I will admit that I was skeptical. The plan was to go off into the woods with nothing but a roll of hemp and build a bower that would attract a mate. In other words, on the final day of class at Catamount, we were all going to go around and see each other’s bowers. At the start of the 5-hour bower-building event, several of the boys’ groups grabbed the rolls of hemp and ran off into the woods with them. While our group was not as amused as the boys seemed to be about the trickery, we decided that we were better off without the hemp as it would force us to make our bower entirely out of natural resources.
We found an area with two half-fallen trees and decided to stake our claim on it. We got to work on moving fallen aspens and collecting aspen leaves. Within an hour the four of us had gotten into a pretty steady rhythm and flow. We realized in between adjusting sticks so that they were just so and placing leaves in their perfect places that we were acting much like birds do. We finished in a little over four hours and stayed close to our bower for the remaining time, protecting it from other mal-intending bowerbirds in the vicinity.
In short, the five hours passed in a breeze. Did we, a group of college-aged girls, really just spend five hours in the woods collecting sticks? Worse yet, did we enjoy it? The answer was an obvious ‘yes’. The last time any of us had had this much fun in the woods was in elementary school. Nobody regretted it.
When judgment day rolled around, our class shuffled around the woods from bower to bower, being serenaded by mating dances, and being surprised by our creativity. Each bower was so different despite the fact that we all had access to pretty much (I say pretty much with some bitterness in my voice, boys) the same materials to work with. Some bowers were forts that gave you beautiful views to a lake, some were perfect circles that made you feel like you were a part of your surroundings, and others were teepee-like structures that made you feel like you were a kid again.
Through this exercise, we learned to question why the world around us is filled with such differently designed structures despite having access to similar materials. We also realized that each of us has the power to create something if we put our minds to it. Creativity gives form to shape, and creativity reminds us how to see the beauty in the world around us.
I joined this class without any previous knowledge of architecture, design, and without any skill in drawing or sketching. Understandably, you might be asking yourself why I would ever decide to take an environmental design class. The answer, despite its lack of logic, is simple : I wanted to learn about something that I had no prior knowledge of. In my opinion, one of the best things about being at a liberal arts school is that you can take a class that has absolutely nothing to do with your major and have it change the way you look at the world.
During the second week of our class we headed up to our Catamount campus in the mountains. The campus itself is located at almost 10,000 feet of elevation and has a stunning view of Pike’s Peak. We had the fortune of staying at the cabins during a week when Colorado’s beautiful aspens were beginning to shed their leaves. The crisp air and the yellowing scenery left us all in awe of our surroundings.
Naturally, Marie asked us to depict some of the scenery in our sketchbooks. After a brief lesson on values, we all went off in our own directions on a quest to capture all of the beauty in our notebooks. Now, I’ll be honest, I was trying my hardest to understand what in the world Marie was referring to when she was talking about values. To me, values are something that people try to possess, or a numerical worth that we assign to inanimate objects. I had absolutely no idea what Marie meant when she said that the trained human eye can see up to forty values, but the average person sees nine or ten.
Regardless, one of my mottos in life is, ‘when in doubt, GO FOR IT’, so I was not too deterred with my lack of understanding of my first ever drawing lesson. Off I sauntered to the edge of a lake and decided I was going to draw the landscape before me – using values, of course. I put my pencil to the white paper, took a deep breath, and channeled my inner Michelangelo.
I shaded a little bit darker where my eyes saw darker colors, and I let up on the pencil when the colors seemed lighter. It was simple really, this drawing business, heck if even I could do it after just one lesson, then what was all the fuss about? After less than a minute, I decided my landscape was just about done. I lifted my pencil from the paper and surveyed my work. Horror ensued immediately.
I kid you not, I briefly questioned if someone, most likely a small child, had stolen my pencil and decided to play a trick on me. As my eyes scanned the travesty before me, the truth of my situation hit me hard. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about architecture or drawing or designing – liberal arts hoopla aside, what in the world had possessed me to take this class??
A little while later, I worked up the courage to humbly ask Marie for some personal help. I sidled up to her and flashed her a brief glimpse of the disaster that had occurred in my sketchbook earlier. I expected her to laugh, I mean, the sketch is nothing if not laughable, but she instead brought me outside and gave me a private drawing lesson.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what changed from the first lesson to the next, but suddenly values began to take on a different form. You don’t need a yellow color to depict aspen leaves, you simply need to assign it a certain value. After watching Marie draw an aspen, not based off of precision, but with a focus on shape and form, I began to see the scene before me in a different way. I’m not exactly sure what changed or why, but for the first time in my life, I drew something that looked like it was done by someone who knows how to draw. I was ecstatic. It took me until my junior year of college to learn to draw. But hey, better late than never.
Today, our class of six met up at The Bon Shopping Center just north of campus to speak to the owners of the strip mall and to one of the owners of a coffee shop within the strip mall. Our final project in this class is to present a redesigned model of the shopping center to the owners of ‘The Bon Center’ in the hopes that one of the designs will be picked up and implemented, at least to a partial degree.
Upon arriving at the shopping center, the owners invited us into a newly vacant shop within the mall where Rj, a member of our class, proceeded to interview the two owners about the shopping center. We learned that they have owned and managed the business since they were teenagers, and that because the demographic of customers who use The Bon Center on a regular basis tend to be older, any changes they make would need to cater to their loyal older clientele. Some of us were disappointed, seeing as we wanted to convert it into a hopping place to hang out in coffee shops while sipping on Maté in the Old North End, but one of the most important things we are learning in this class is how to use a combination of GIS (geographic information systems) and our own ideas to create a design that will fit into the neighborhood.
Next we interviewed the owner of Stir, a recently opened coffee shop that looks like every CC student’s dream – it has modern art hanging on its walls and vintage adornments throughout. Upon stepping into the renovated garage, it was immediately apparent that this shop was an anomaly among the rest of the shopping center. Young hipsters were lounging on old dentist’s chairs, and it was obvious by the number of visible laptops and smart phones within the perimeter that wi-fi was readily available. The owner, a young single mom, told us that she would love to see some renovations at The Bon Center, mainly involving the generic signs of all the stores.
From here we parted ways. Two in our class went back to campus, while the other four (myself included) jumped in my car and went to a local 88-year-old man’s residence for another interview. He and his dog live alone in a quaint home with a beautiful garden a few blocks from The Bon Center, a place he used to frequent often. Our main goal was to see what he thought of the place and if he could think of any changes he would like to see at the shopping center. Because we are trying to really understand what kinds of people visit the center and why, it is important that we speak to people who have different relationships to it.
Next we headed off to our final interview location of the night : our professor’s house. Marie Davis-Green is an internationally recognized designer who currently uses her talents to teach college-aged students how to open their eyes to a new way of thinking. She welcomed us warmly into her home with nicer snacks than most of us have seen in ages, and introduced us to the three men we would be interviewing for the evening. We ended up sitting around a table in her patio listening to the three men speak about their relation to The Bon Center and what improvements they would like to see. After two and a half hours, we realized it was 8:30 p.m., and therefore coming up on our departure time. We thanked the interviewees and headed back to campus to get started on transcribing all of the interviews we had heard throughout the day.
The beauty of the Block Plan is that all 2,000 of us have three hours of allotted class time in the morning, and save for lab classes, we have the rest of the day absolutely free. We can either head to the mountains for some fresh air, play a game of pick-up soccer, do homework, or run around all day conducting interviews for our class. In this case, Marie has taken advantage of the Block Plan and is really making us live and breathe our project. It is hard to not get excited about what you’re learning when it’s what you’re focusing on and doing all day long. After a long day of interviews, I feel much more connected to the community surrounding The Bon Center, and I’m excited to design a plan that will make them proud.