April 01, 2016
Connecting the Dottes

We’re thrilled to share the next post from architectural intern, Blaise Cannon. But enough about us. Read what he has to say:

Upon returning from Paris for my last semester of graduate school, there was some trepidation about going back to Lawrence and the “on-campus” life. Lawrence is a great place to go to college, but the change of pace from Paris gave me significant pause. Luckily, after a couple-year hiatus, my school decided to re-establish a presence at the Kansas City Design Center (KCDC) with a final semester studio, populated almost entirely by students returning from professional experiences elsewhere.

Located in the heart of downtown, KCDC is a nonprofit educational collaboration between the William T. Kemper and Hall Family Foundations with the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. Its objective is to place students in “a unique learning laboratory that actively explores real-world issues facing Kansas City’s future development.” With those universities being in considerably less urban settings, KCDC provides a necessary hub for students to engage traditionally urban disciplines like architecture and planning with a stated focus on service-oriented design.

This studio was to be taught by Associate Professor, Shannon Criss, and seemed to be a good option for the final semester of my graduate career. I had been loosely aware of Professor Criss’ ongoing involvement in developments across the river in Kansas City, KS. Recently Criss along with Associate Professor, Nils Gore and doctoral student, Matt Kleinmann founded the Dotte Agency design collaborative and community engagement hub in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of KCK. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County, which includes KCK, governs one of the most unique geographies in the country. It is one of only two counties in the U.S. with a population made up of at least 25% of three different ethnic groups. The population of foreign born residents is one of, if not the highest, in the Kansas City MSA.

The studio has evolved within the existing confines of KCDC and the Dotte Agency with 11 different projects at a variety of scales. On Friday, March 28 we held an open pin-up of all our work up to this point. A number of professionals, academics and members of the community were invited to the all-day session. Over 40 people attended, one of whom was IAA’s Elizabeth Amirahmadi. Students had 30-60 minute blocks with groups of diverse reviewers to present their projects and get critical feedback on the existing framework and future directions.

kcdc in text

There are some issues that all my colleagues and I must address in our projects, namely consensus in such a diverse population, a general dearth of resources that plague nearly all municipalities, and a contextual fabric that does not fit any obvious category (urban, suburban, industrial, rural), to name just a few. The difficulty is that many of these issues are ultimately incongruent, but my colleagues and I did our best to address them. There are proposals that deal with systematic issues like bike infrastructure and cohesiveness of neighborhoods, and others that deal with more focused topics like innovative signage and recycling in an elementary school.

The feedback we received from Elizabeth and other reviewers gave us some necessary critical distance, internal perspective, and professional wisdom to continue to listen and respond to our community through engagement efforts that provide thoughtful and innovative ideas allowing us to collaborate with citizens to further integrate and improve a part of Kansas City that for many, even longtime residents, remains a mystery. Stay tuned for more developments and future events with KCDC and Dotte Agency.