University District Alliance holds first Architect Day

Architects helped residents redesign their property plans for future modifications while encouraging the historic preservation of their neighborhood.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

Marilyn Burns is a Southeast Como resident who says she sees a drastic change in the quality of housing in the University neighborhoods. The increase in vacant properties and the rapid transition from homeownership to renter-occupied housing are changes that have not gone unnoticed by Burns and other residents, who also say unkempt properties and lower quality housing are issues the University neighborhoods have been trying to solve. The University District Alliance âÄôs first Architect Alliance Day was an effort to address these issues. The event, which took place Saturday at Van Cleve Park, provided free architecture consulting services to residents from the Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods. Five design and landscape architects from the American Institute of Architects reviewed homeownersâÄô property plans and advised residents on how to modify houses while maintaining the neighborhoodâÄôs overall character. Most of the 40 residents who attended asked about patio and yard space, roofing issues and restructuring kitchens. Joan Menken, who lives on 14th Avenue, said she asked a landscape architect to draw a newer plan of her yard, which has an empty space since a 150-year-old elm tree was removed. The architect helped her decide which plants to grow during different seasons, and estimated the cost of installing more sustainable features in her garden. âÄúIt was a wonderful start to redoing my yard,âÄù Menken said. âÄúPeople would do more with their properties if they knew where to start.âÄù Bob Roscoe, the head of a firm called Design for Preservation, organized the event after he heard of a similar event spearheaded by Historic Saint Paul, another preservation organization. He said that with the mortgage crisis, residents are looking for cheaper ways to upgrade their houses. âÄúThis event reinforced the idea that houses have value and homeowners donâÄôt have to sacrifice quality,âÄù he said. Roscoe also said he hopes an event like this would encourage homeowners to maintain their properties, which renters may not feel as obligated to do. Burns echoed that sentiment, and said she is more concerned with absentee landlords who donâÄôt encourage student renters to maintain their houses. âÄúReplenishing the existing stock of housing is always an option over tearing down or rebuilding a house,âÄù she said. âÄúBut when you have investors that allow houses to degrade to the point where no one would live in them, we have a problem.âÄù Woody Hanson, a University architecture senior, is the outreach coordinator of the American Institute of Architecture Students. Members of the student group provided consulting services to residents at the event and practiced their skills. Hanson said the event was helpful because it allowed him to practice what he learned in class. He also said students need to be more involved with developments in the neighborhood, including learning how to maintain a house. âÄúWeâÄôre students and we usually donâÄôt know how to keep up a house,âÄù Hanson said. âÄúUsually, itâÄôs rental properties that arenâÄôt being kept up and weâÄôre becoming a little overwhelming to homeowners.âÄù Although the event was open to all residents, rental property owners and students did not attend, mainly because it was targeted to homeowners, Roscoe said. However, he said rental property owners could be the target for a future design series.