Architecture is a reflection of our culture, hopes, and dreams. It is a field of study that connects engineering, art, design, history, psychology, environment and sustainability. The combination of ideas to form a theory or a concept can create order out of chaos resulting in the transformation of an empty space into something that has harmony, rhythm, balance, and dignity—lofty yet achievable standards for our historic monuments.
Recently, TMCC Architecture and Landscape Architecture students were challenged with an eight-week assignment to design a public space that will pay homage to mounted replicas of our country’s Charters of Freedom.
The Charters of Freedom is a National Nonprofit Organization that works to bring access of our nation’s founding documents (the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which are collectively called “The Charters of Freedom”) to public spaces. Last year, the organization successfully raised funds and constructed a Charters of Freedom Monument in Carson City.
This year, Charters of Freedom wants to build a similar monument in Reno. The proposed structure will be highly visible due to its proposed location on the North side of the historic County Courthouse and South of the Riverside artist’s lofts along the lively South Virginia street corridor. “They called TMCC because they needed a design solution,” said Construction and Design Professor Kreg Mebust who is coordinating this project. The design, Mebust said, will have to take several factors into consideration, including historical context, diversity, city standards, and preservation standards. Second-year students took up the challenge of designing a monument that will memorialize documents central to our national identity while preserving the authenticity of and historical presence of downtown Reno.
“Historic sites, be they structures or landscapes, play an important role in maintaining a community’s authenticity… these clever, problem-solving students are creating innovative solutions with their designs, and I thoroughly enjoy being involved with the program,” said Melinda Gustin, Nevada Advisor for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and resident of the Nevada State Board of Landscape Architects.
At first, each student created two designs and presented them to Chuck Slavin (Charters of Freedom representative), Kate Thomas (Assistant County Manager), County Building and Facility Operations, City of Reno’s landscape architect and the Reno Historical Resources Commission, in a preliminary design meeting at the TMCC William N. Pennington Applied Technology Center on April 15. Concerns were expressed towards the maintenance of the structure, cost, and keeping unwanted attention and destruction at bay (by graffiti artists or skateboarders, for example) while offering creative design solutions that will honor the documents memorialized there.
TMCC Architecture student Morgan Johnson presented concepts heavily steeped in local history. Johnson said she uses research to spark her creativity, whether in determining the form the monument will take or the materials of which it is constructed. Her first design was made of the telltale Reno red brick (from the Reno Brick Factory) laid in the shape of the state of Nevada that forms a detail of the larger shape—the Liberty Bell. Her second design concept featured the same materials but in the shape of a heart. “It’s based on the history of the courthouse and the Riverside,” said Johnson. “It alludes to Reno’s past reputation as a place to get divorced or as a link to the name of this project—the Liberty Bell as a symbol of the Charters of Freedom.” Fellow architectural student Jim Severt created a physical model for clients to view. This enabled him to examine where the light will fall and the effect of shadows across his proposed structures. Severt also proposed a mural in addition to his East-facing structure, to help draw people in.
TMCC Landscape Architecture student Anthony Decola’s designs were made with simplicity and elegance in mind. The semi-circular walkway would connect the new monument to the current Nevada and World War II monument by way of a paver-pathway lined with wild grasses and other local flora. “My design allows visitors to flow in and out of the space,” said Decola. “It also pays homage to the World War II memorial that is already there. So, the idea is that the space welcomes you, and invites you to reflect and spend time there,” he said. Fellow landscape architectural student Alexis Longstreet proposed a design that included a playful spiral pathway and a series of benches to invite visitors to sit and enjoy the space. “Her design is both contemplative and interactive. Curiosity will draw people in,” said Mebust.
Community Service Learning
Mebust, who recently received a NISOD Excellence Award for innovative service learning projects, has cultivated relationships within the community that enable his students to experience real-life and unique learning opportunities. The community approaches TMCC Architecture students because “...our students are arriving at what’s hip, cool and contemporary—when the community has a need, our students have a solution,” said Mebust.
The design process associated with community projects infuses a human-factor into the learning environment. During the selection process for the winning Charters of Freedom design, the students were asked the question “why.”
“That’s another aspect of being an architect,” said Mebust. “Clients are going to ask the question ‘why’ and you have to answer that question meaningfully.”
TMCC Architecture Student Anthony Decola’s Winning Design
On May 6, students journeyed to the County buildings to present their top design ideas in a brief presentation to County representatives. “I am so impressed with the work, it will make making a decision very difficult,” said County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung after watching each student’s presentation.
Chuck Slavin from Charters of Freedom echoed similar sentiments. “All of us involved with the judging were truly impressed with the effort that went into the students’ designs and the quality of their projects,” said Slavin.
After much deliberation, Decola’s design was selected as the future Charters of Freedom monument in Reno. “Anthony has a unique perspective,” said Mebust. “He has an internal drive for excellence and a heart for service. He has created a space with a distinctive atmosphere that draws people into the sacred ground of our Charters of Freedom.”
For more information about the TMCC Architecture program, contact the department at 775-673-7265.