7.20.2015

Newcity Article | My First Right Connection

The summer before my sophomore year in high school was spent learning about architecture after being suggested to look into it as a profession by my older brother. After numerous trips to the library to attempt to understand what architecture was, I eventually just sat on the Internet and researched everything I could find about Chicago's architecture community. I found out about the Chicago Architecture Foundation, specifically their textbook titled "The Architecture Handbook: A Student Guide to Understanding Buildings," co-authored by Jennifer Masengarb and Krisann Rehbein. That's probably the most important Google search I have ever made in my entire life.

The Architecture Handbook (Source)

I told myself I needed to get my hands on that book, not knowing that when my sophomore year classes started at Lane Tech High School, I would be one of the first users of the very book I had just discovered. I remember walking into my first ever architecture class at Lane Tech, excited and surprised to see the same book stacked right next to my computer monitor. I picked it up, flipped through the pages, and then went to the front page, thinking: "Chicago Architecture Foundation...I should probably get to know this organization."

Finding CAF on the web and then connecting to it in school and then being exposed to all of the wonderful workshops, lectures, events, activities, competitions, and resources this wonderful organization had for architecture students like myself was just amazing. I went from being a confused high school student who thought she wanted to be an artist or something of that sort, to someone who had just found her home in the vast world of architecture.

When I first saw Krisann Rehbein and Jen Masengarb at one of the "Saturday in the Studio" workshops at CAF, I thought it was the coolest thing to have the authors of "The Architecture Handbook" leading the workshops. I had no idea that they would soon become my first (and most valuable) connections in the field of architecture.

Design/Build Saturday Workshop with CAF in 2009
From a Google search about Chicago architecture, to the "Architecture Handbook", to the "Saturday in the Studio" workshops, to the Student Advisory Committee, to the Newhouse Architecture Competition, to sitting in on a David Adjaye CAF lecture, to being a volunteer teacher at a "Saturday in the Studio" workshop, to being a keynote speaker at the Newhouse Architecture Competition, to now...I will forever be indebted to the wonderful folks at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Krisann and Jen weren't people who just led events for students. They were dedicated people who had a huge impact on my life. Even after I graduated from Lane Tech, they visited me at IIT to see what I was working on, gave me advice to help me get back up when I felt like I couldn't take it anymore, and are still there for me through everything. Take this story as an example:

As a young Pakistani-American Muslim woman, I had the most supportive mother who was excited, but still nervous for her daughter who was pursuing the field of architecture. This profession was new to her. She drove me to every workshop, every lecture, was there for every winning speech I made for the essay entry for the Newhouse Architecture Competition, but she told me she always had a little voice that asked, "Is this field right for my daughter?" It was something foreign to her, even though my older brother was a graphic designer. Pakistani women in the field of design was unheard of for my mom, but she never told me not to follow my dreams just because she was unsure about somethings. After talking to Krisann and Jen, my mom would tell me how nice they were, how they would answer her questions, how they supported me, and how they truly cared. My mom would thank them every time she met them for exposing me to the educational events and programs at CAF. Both Krisann and Jen would tell my mom how excited and proud they were of me and that I was going places. After speaking to them for a few years at every Newhouse Competition ceremony, I noticed that my mom became more and more confident about me pursuing architecture. Now, everything that goes right in my career, my mom always attributes it to me getting involved with CAF and she's completely right. She says, "If it wasn't for you meeting Krisann and Jen, you wouldn't have gotten here."

Now, you're thinking: "Where are you going with this, Fariha?"



Today, Krisann wrote an article about my journey in architecture for Newcity. While I feel that I really don't deserve all of her kind words, I do know that when my mom read it, she called me and burst into tears and told me she saw the result of her support, patience, and hard work and that she was extremely proud of me. When you're the daughter of two hard working parents who traveled many, many miles from their home in Pakistan, left their families, their dream jobs, their friends, and so much more just to make sure their children attained a great education...hearing those few words is truly a blessing.

Oh, and of course, she said again: "I always tell you, if it wasn't for you meeting Krisann and Jen, you wouldn't have gotten here." As always, I agreed completely.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is an amazing organization that allowed me to meet dedicated people who have helped me in so many ways. The article is truly an honor and I'm writing this post to say that every accomplishment it mentions is attributed to my connection to the Chicago Architecture Foundation, as well as Marwen and Lane Tech High School. A huge thank you to everyone at these institutions and a big thank you to Krisann for not only writing such a thoughtful piece, but also for being such a wonderful mentor/supporter/friend from the start.

Alhamdulilah (thanks be to God) for everything.

Read the Newcity article here.

7.19.2015

Urban Activation Englewood Update: Presenting Progress at the GECDC

Last week, my studio had the opportunity to present our progress at the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation (GECDC). We presented to our professors, Glen Fulton, Jim Harbin, Amanda Williams, and Tamora Walls. 

We now have three teams developing three different framework plans for Englewood. One focuses on creating a constellation of active spaces by using vacant lots, vacant schools, and abandoned buildings to house a variety of programs. Another group is thinking about how the 63rd and Halsted corridor can spread out into smaller streets like arteries that connect the neighborhood. The last group has created a method to develop a framework plan for Englewood. They have designed a type of board game that allows people to plan their neighborhood.

We each presented our drawings, diagrams, and research to receive feedback and had thoughtful discussions regarding the future of Englewood.

A conceptual piece illustrating the idea of a "constellation framework plan" for Englewood
The constellation framework plan took current events taking place in Englewood into consideration
One of the teams discussed their framework plan that involved a board game
Jim Harbin, Tamora Walls, and Amanda Williams responding to a presentation

7.11.2015

Urban Activation Englewood: Design Charrettes and Future Frameworks

The Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation (GECDC) is inside of this bank building. The interior of the bank is beautiful. No photos allowed, so you have to check it out yourself!
I've never worked on setting up a design charrette prior to the one we set up at the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation (GECDC). This is one of my favorite activities in the field of Architecture. Sitting down with community members and taking the time to listen to creative ideas for their neighborhood is just exciting. Architects aren't the only ones with the answers. Just because we know how to use fancy architectural terminology, doesn't mean folks outside of the profession don't have amazing ideas for the future of their neighborhood.

Guests speak to Monica Chadha (right), one of the professors for the studio.  
We started off the discussion by handing out maps that broadly covered the Englewood neighborhood. We asked the guests to outline what they feel is the boundary of Englewood and what they think is the center or the hub of their neighborhood. This was an interesting exercise, because each person had a unique response. They highlighted places that they visited and not just the formal political border of Englewood. I was personally very interested in seeing what they felt was the hub of Englewood, because as a studio we have been focusing primarily on 63rd and Halsted, since it's known as the commercial area, but each person had their own opinion about what they considered to be a central point in the neighborhood.

Upon entering, guests received a map to outline Englewood and a basic FAQ sheet about the program.
Glen Fulton, Executive Director of the GECDC, took part in the charrette.
The charrette then moved into an activity that I led, which allowed a wonderful discussion to take place regarding the future of Englewood. I created a large sheet that said: "In 2025, Englewood will have..." Everyone in the room had a variety of ideas of where they saw Englewood to be in ten years. "Englewood needs to be a destination that other people want to come to," said one community member. Another person said, "We need more sports and athletic facilities. We have so many athletes, but they have to go outside of the neighborhood to practice. Why not bring more people in?" I heard other ideas like allowing more arts to flourish in the community, not only visual arts, but music and performing arts as well. These people were passionate about the neighborhood they live in and I loved the energy they expressed when we asked them questions. 

We had a discussion about how Englewood will change within the next ten years.
Back in studio, we broke up into three different groups to create three framework plans for Englewood. My group is focusing on creating a constellation in Englewood by activating the numerous vacant lots in the neighborhood. We researched the existing conditions and are now coming up with action plans for the future of Englewood by taking into consideration history and data, the community's thoughts, and other planned developments that will take place in the near future. I'm excited to detail our framework plan on the blog. Stay tuned!

Thank you to all those who participated! 

6.11.2015

Urban Activation Update: Looking into Englewood's Education Data

Today in my "Urban Activation: Englewood" studio, we presented a first draft of our research. Right now we have four different research groups: history, demographics, mapping/zoning, and future planned developments. I'm a part of the demographics group, focusing on the education and also the analysis of all our collective demographic data. We presented information to one of our IIT librarians who is a research specialist. She helped us fill some gaps in our research and we'll be meeting with her to make sure we find as much data as we possibly can to help fuel our design project.

Most of my education data is straight from the web and I really want to dig deeper and make sure my numbers are correct. I also need to take this data and make qualitative conclusions of the collective information. I first began with some basic education statistics in Englewood. Most residents are high school graduates and 8% of the residents completed a bachelor's degree or higher, which is 26% lower than the city of Chicago.


Source
I keep hearing about the Chicago Public School (CPS) closings when looking into Englewood's education information. Before going into the closings, I looked up the schools that are currently open in the neighborhood. Only a few of these schools are in good standing, with most of the schools listed as those needing "intensive support." I personally feel this information is important, but does not reflect the intelligence of Englewood students. There are many bright people coming out of this neighborhood, but I'm sure we just haven't heard about the talent yet!


Vacant schools are something I keep bringing up in my discussion with my studiomates. Something wonderful can be done with these buildings. I attended a CPS elementary school and a CPS high school. I was always intrigued by the architecture of both buildings. They're beautiful spaces and shouldn't be sitting there with no purpose except that of vandalization and crime. Check out these stats I found through Catalyst Chicago. Most of the CPS schools have no plans for them!
I love how residents of Englewood have ideas for the CPS schools that have been shut down. Asiaha Butler, for example, has an idea for one of the schools to become an agriculture education center. I wonder what ideas other people have about these schools. I really think something exciting could become of these buildings!


Image/Quote Source

“I’m thinking this back part could be like a little rest stop area, where people riding their bikes up on the trail can come down and learn about the community,” Butler says, describing a dream as she sweeps her hand toward a thicket of woods growing over the property boundary. “We also see a lot of opportunity for this to be a kind of urban agriculture education center, for farmers or for tourists—if you want to start an urban farm, you can come here and learn the basics.”

— Asiaha Butler
Activist looking for new uses for CPS schools in Englewood


Just as a disclaimer, this is research I found online and was not created by me. I only put the graphs together for a quick overview. My next goal is to dive deeper and find more data about Englewood and make sure my numbers are as correct as they can possibly be. My studio is collecting a variety of data and is also creating a physical model of Englewood with all of our research represented through various layers on the model. From there, we will draw some conclusions of how all of the data relates. We're also looking into shrinking neighborhoods and how we can create proposals for activating a specific part of Englewood, the Halsted Street corridor. Englewood is amazing and has an insane amount of potential. I look forward to coming up with possible framework ideas with my studiomates.