By Greta Chiocchetti
The satisfaction that comes after putting together your own furniture—a’la IKEA—is a familiar phenomenon for many: while it may follow several hours of frustration, somehow we appreciate that bookshelf or side table more knowing the work that went into its assembly.
For two students in the School of Architecture’s B.Lab at Academy of Art University, that feeling of satisfaction will be tenfold. Adam Nuru and Markish Siojo, who are going into their final semester before graduating with their Bachelor of Architecture degrees, spent the summer constructing outdoor furniture installations for the residents of the Bayview Commons, an affordable housing complex in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood of San Francisco.
“I just can’t wait for it to be finished, to actually get it there and start seeing how they interact with the pieces themselves,” said Nuru. “Our objective was to encourage intergenerational play, so it’s gonna be for both the adults and the kids, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they make use of it.”
The installation, which was designed by students in the Spring 2020 semester’s B.Lab class (three of which have since graduated: Corona Xiaohuan Gao, Dylan Ingle, and Fabio Lemos), is made up of a series of flexible, modular pieces that can be used as seating or play structures, and even includes a vertical herb garden. Although originally the class planned to begin construction halfway through the past spring semester, California’s shelter-in-place orders forced them to delay.
Over the summer, the B.Lab’s Indiegogo raised over $5,500 of its $6,000 goal, and they also secured an additional $5,500 from Mission Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization. With the funds needed to move forward, all that was left was to put the pieces together.
“This is a project that is timeline-based, is already financed, and just needed shop support,” said Academic Shop Director Greg Grundstrom. “So when we got approval from the Executive Office to use the industrial design shop, the students were able to keep that timeline going as expected. The architecture directors have been great—they understand how important this project is to the Bayview Commons community and want to see it completed as soon as possible.”
Once the students returned to the industrial shop for ARH 512: Participatory Design, the construction process was guided by Grundstrom, B.Lab Coordinator, ARH 512 faculty, and Community Outreach Coordinator Sameena Sitabkhan, Architecture Shop Manager Gena Whitman, and Industrial Design Shop Manager Max Niehaus, Nuru and Siojo began building the structures’ steel frames. Though the students’ designs were meticulously planned the semester before, they gained some valuable experience in adapting to make the pieces work in real life.
“Once the construction began, they didn’t really need a lot of help with the tools or with the process,” said Whitman. “Really, what they needed me for was for advice in making design decisions. As happens often in real design projects, we had to deviate slightly from the plan to make things work in some places.”
As part of a previous B.Lab class, both students had used much of the equipment before. Siojo, however, is a particularly adept welder from his time in the military and was able to share his expertise with Nuru as they went along.
The pair completed eight structural frames over the course of the summer semester. When they return for their final semesters before graduation this fall, they will complete the finishing details of the structures—installing the seating, wood panels, and interactive panels.
“At the beginning of the summer semester, we talked about how much has changed since this project began,” said Sitabkhan. “We talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests going on, the pandemic, and how all these things impact public spaces and the people of the Bayview Commons. The students came up with an idea to include some text in the ground mural that is a positive reflection of the things that are going on.”
Nuru and Siojo sent the residents of the Bayview Commons a survey at the beginning of the summer, asking them to reflect on any positives that may have come out of this particularly complicated time in history.
“A lot of those topics are difficult to talk about, but all the kids that Markish and Adam talked to were in the know about what was going on and had thoughts and ideas around it,” said Sitabkhan.
Residents shared several silver linings—having more time to study and exercise, being a couple suggestions. When asked what was most important to them in 2020, many responded with “family”—a word that Siojo and Nuru want to incorporate into the design somehow.
The initial construction of the modular pieces was completed by the last day of the summer semester, August 12, and Siojo and Nuru are looking forward to the next steps that will bring them closer to their end goal.
“I’m excited to see it after we finish it, obviously,” said Siojo. “But I’d be so happy to see it 10 years from now, you know, still being useful to the community.”