Transportation Charette


The transportation charette that took place on January 23rd was probably the most literal interpretation of a charette that has ever taken place. We had some extremely knowledgeable professionals on our panel that were highly involved in the transportation field, so the discussion wasn’t as creative as it could have been with hypothetical situations and scenarios. That being said, we did get great incite into the reality and future of transportation, as well as the processes on and around Aurora.  The professionals were able to pitch ideas that have been successfully implemented around Seattle and demonstrated what they would look like in the context of Aurora as it currently is.

Audience interaction was at an all time high this time around. It was great to see opposition from a local business owner and watch the reaction of the professionals as they defend their work. More audience participation will be encouraged for the politics charette.

The acoustics in the room were a challenge with the pairing of the noise level from the yearly Graduate School Happy Hour, but this allowed for a unique chance to get exposure that we otherwise wouldn’t have had from the traffic coming and going on a regular basis throughout the charette. We had an additional task to create an interactive component to the charette in order to incorporate the students in exchange for drink tickets. They were more interested in the drinks and social aspect of the event, more so than the charette, but it was fun.

The transportation charette/conversation went very well overall and we worked great as a team even though we didn’t stick to our timeline. For our next charette on politics, a more abstract design process will need to take place sooner and we will need to find appropriate ways to recognize when it is necessary to steer the conversation in another direction after a certain period of time. This was definitely a collaborative learning experience for all of us.


Observers | Week 2 | Aurora Ave: Transportation

Kate, Gabriel and Tyson welcomed professionals Tory Kovacs (recent UW architecture graduate & creator of bicycle friendly communities), Rick Mohler (local architect & UW professor) and Marcus Elliot (engineer) to this week’s Open Sketchbook of Aurora Avenue at the Henry. Armed with existing and potential transportation information of Aurora Ave, transit maps and street cross-sections decorated the space, along with a video simulating the experience of driving along Aurora Ave.

The day’s question was posed: “How do you create a transportation system that gives equal weight to motorized vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles?”


Soon after the ultimatum of this charette was announced, the room was taken over by the guest (male) professionals who were eager to educate the rest of room on the legal rules and regulations of Seattle’s transportation design and planning. The guest engineer’s extensive professional involvement with transit projects along Aurora Avenue, including Rapid Ride, gave him unsolicited precedence to dominate the discussion, repress collaboration and consequently stifle not only the audience but the team’s design process. The guest architect also shared his professional expertise of transportation and development in Seattle, but tried to collaborate with the rest of the team eventually.


The charette started off strong with active participation and enthusiasm from all team members. Kate took the lead while Gabriel experimented with brainstorming and communicating his ideas visually. The students took turns trying to contribute to the discussion, though the constant disregard of thoughts and collaborative dialogue from the engineer forced the students, and even the audience, to physically remove themselves from the space throughout the charette.


In the end, commitment to collaboration was lost early on. The team was focused more on individual self-preservation and product creation than a supportive collaborative and innovative process. Despite loosing momentum at the end, interaction with the audience and general public was lively.

– Carolyn Foster & Dechen Gonnot

HISTORY | Charette Synthesis

The illustration acts as a synthesis of our design PROCESS. The involved students are products of architecture, landscape architecture, and interaction design. Two professors of architecture also joined in the fun – one a practicing architect and the other an architectural historian. Unfortunately a historian could not make it to the charette, but he was there in spirit through the historic photos he provided.
History charette reflection square

Observers | Week 1 | Aurora Ave: History, (Its)story

Dechen, Cami, and Catherine hit the ground running with the Open Sketchbook of Aurora Avenue. The team created an engaging atmosphere by setting up a projector to show the drive up and down Aurora Ave. as well as hang historic and recent photos of the street. Welcoming their guests, Louissa Iarocci and Rob Hutchison, they went right into the charette discussing personal impressions of Aurora Avenue and its history.

2014-01-16 18.50.51The participants worked diligently to incorporate their guests into conversations related the their strengths and experience. After about a half hour, the hosts and guests came to a shared comfort level where they could get down to questions beyond the initial wash.

2014-01-16 19.28.25The team members seemed to self-select into their own roles, while there seemed to be some hesitance to invite the guests into specific roles- defaulting to seeing where the guests wished to go. Decisions were consensus based, there were few discernable moments of singular, authoritative leadership. There were no outright disagreements during the session, so there were few opportunities for leadership to be overt.

The guests were invited to engage the subject matter at a thorough level. It seemed like there were various moments in the charette when the students deferred decision-making to them, sometimes in important decisions that the students might have engaged more fully.

pic2Many thoughtful observations were made, some quite impressive for the amount of time available to the charette participants. A number of comments concerned with the way we related to Aurora were thought provoking, and a number of those were clearly portrayed in the deliverable objects produced by the charette team. Sketches, models and thoughtful notes brought the charette to a close and left observers eagerly awaiting what the next week will bring.

-Carolyn Foster, Kate Reef, Ian Schmidt

60 minutes or 7 days on highway 99

Who lives here?

Who lives here?

In my first hour on Aurora I met people who lived there.  Not in the condos and single family homes one block away, but directly in the noise zone of 99.  It’s tempting to consider Aurora a commercial thoroughfare primarily, not a place to live.  So who does live there?  Homeless folks.  It’s not surprising to be pan-handled at a fast food joint in many neighborhoods -certainly happens to all of us in the U district -and it happened to me right away on our visit to Aurora, twice.  But then I almost tripped over a well dressed woman and her 8 year old right inside the door of Jack in the Box.  They obviously wanted to talk.  What was the name of that recording artist on the muzak?  Karen Carpenter.  What are we doing here?  Urban analysis -architecture, planning, landscape, design.  Interested, the mom told me she was an interior decorator.  What does Aurora need, I asked.  Color she said.  And more light to discourage drug dealers.  Her daughter showed me the elaborate rubber band bracelets she was weaving with a small craft kit.  How long have you lived here I asked.  Less than a week.  They were homeless the mom told me.  Public assistance vouchers pay only for the cheapest motels -thus landing them on Aurora.  Bouncing them around constantly because the assistance is only given out in one week increments.  So now when I look at the motels on 99 I don’t think first about illicit activities.  I think about homeless families.  About a mother and daughter out for a family meal.  Seeking socialization.  Desperate for conversation.  I think about inequalities of income and opportunity.  I think about Aurora as a unique kind of 21st century neighborhood.

-Rob Corser

Convergence on Aurora: a site visit, Part 3

On Thursday January 9 our class braved the rain to walk along Aurora, soaking in the atmosphere, sounds, and pungent smells of the street. Students reflected on what they experienced verbally and visually. Here are some visual catalogs:

Carolyn Foster

Convergence of the static built environment with speeding cars:


Convergence of messages to passengers in vehicles with messages to observant pedestrians:


Convergence of different modes of transportation: biking, busing, driving, legally crossing, and jaywalking:


Angela Mele

aurora pinecone

Catherine Lim


Dechen Gonnot

HW1_DechenGonnot 1_Page_1

1980 or 2014? Food box and prop-like cars.HW1_DechenGonnot 1_Page_2

Rhythm and Rhyme

HW1_DechenGonnot 1_Page_3Light, motion, blur.

Convergence on Aurora: a site visit, Part 2

On Thursday January 9 our class braved the rain to walk along Aurora, soaking in the atmosphere, sounds, and pungent smells of the street. Students reflected on what they experienced verbally and visually. Here are some thoughts on food, sound, and seediness,:

Tyson Hiffman

Tyson Hiffman - Aurora - FOOD CULTURE Tyson Hiffman - Aurora - SOUND Tyson Hiffman - Aurora - XXX

Pamanee Chaiwat

PamaneeC_Assignment1My perception for Aurora Avenue as a pedestrian is reflected by this modification of “HD traffic” 2009 by John F. Simin Jr. This software artwork is inspired by Piet Mondrain’s painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie”:

  • Cubist and square composition in comparison to grid system of urban planning.
  • Contrast of primary color on colorless background that symbolizes dazzling light and signage at night time.
  • Wording that explains personal perception which were unsystematically arranged to reflect the feeling of walking along Aurora Avenue.

Nikky Zhang

Nikky Zhang Site visit

Convergence on Aurora: a site visit, Part 1

On Thursday January 9 our class braved the rain to walk along Aurora, soaking in the atmosphere, sounds, and pungent smells of the street. Students reflected on what they experienced verbally and visually. Here are some thoughts on schools, signs, and pedestrian convergence:

Ian Schmidt

Convergence –

   Mathematics The property or manner of approaching a limit, such as a point, line, function, or value.

  Physiology The coordinated turning of the eyes inward to focus on an object at close range.

While traveling along Aurora Avenue, these two definitions became the most interesting concepts through which to view the public/private experience.

The first instance of convergence was noticing the widths and state of the sidewalks along Aurora while walking from 85th to 140th, and comparing that to a baseline value of the same avenue in Downtown Seattle. The sidewalks narrow, crack, and eventually disappear as a pedestrian goes north. This convergent “approach” to a limit as referenced in mathematics mirrors the transition from city to suburb to exburb.

The second interesting instance of convergence came while driving along Aurora from 120th, north through Shoreline.

The Physiological definition of convergence deals with a coordinated turning and focusing upon an object at close range. Aurora is not “best” viewed at driving speed – but its character is most commonly viewed by commuters passing through at speeds of 35-55 mph. Driving Aurora immediately after walking it completely changed the understanding of the street of an environment of long spaces and gaps in fabric to focusing the view into a series of sharp, staccato blasts of color, shrunken signs and spaces – a foreshortening by speed that draws out the intended character of the environment. Long empty spaces become “just right” sized for maneuvering at 45 miles per hour, signs that dwarf their landscape grow and shrink dynamically, responding to the speed and approach/withdrawal of an automobile. These automotive experiences reduce the long distances of Aurora into short moments in time – bringing it into focus at close range.

Convergent images of Aurora immerse the viewer in the simultaneous length and brevity of the environment. The businesses along Aurora all feel similar – car centric, parking lot fronted, demarcated by giant signs that are one-word sales pitches. Both the vastness and the brevity of aurora are true – converging into a unified image of the avenue’s authenticity.

Mark Bourne


The condition where two or more objects, forces, or currents move together and mix; also, the point or zone where this mixing occurs. Convergence zones are often characterized by turbulence, irregular flows, and co-occurrence of distinct conditions.

Aurora Avenue is a an artery trying to do everything, when the things that need to be done now were never anticipated. This demand upon the Aurora corridor is revealed in convergences

The first convergence that I notice is not an actual place, but is the layering of history over the landscape, the confluence of the distinct flows of history. Craftsman houses that predate the road; motels that followed the margin of the city north 50 years later, only to be eventually swallowed by the expanding city; businesses that lined the thoroughfare, a linear business district built in the heyday of the strip mall; and now, a road that attempts to still be all of these things, while adapting to an entirely new set of needs.

There is another process at work here, a process that is most clearly revealed by a school district map that leaves a 10-block long, 15-block wide gap between schools, centered on 95th Avenue/North. This is the gap where the visual condition of the street is the most striking: run-down motels, a junk-yard on the street frontage, mid-day pedestrian traffic of men and women who appear to be homeless, or ‘street-walkers’, although this superficial judgment leaves a bitter taste.

The condition of this section of Aurora presents another process, in addition to these historical convergences: Aurora is a convergence of margins.

Bourne 1

The convergence of disparity: pedestrian bridge with ramp at Core Power yoga, stairs at North End Grocery, with wall art visible at the back of top image. Looking across Aurora Avenue, refuse and a poorly kept alley are visible. Behind, a Craftsman-style cottage from the early 20th century likely pre-dates the development of Aurora as a highway.

bourne schools

The five schools that serve the northern part of Seattle adjacent, or near to, Aurora Avenue, clockwise from top left: 1. Broadview-Thomson Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘5’; 2. Northgate Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘2’; 3.Daniel Bagley Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘9’; 4. Greenwood Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘7’; 5. Whittier Elementary, Great Schools Rating ‘10’.

School Attendance areas and ratings are accessed on Redfin, a real estate listing site.

Bourn school gap

This is the zone that is excluded from the maps above: it is recognized by the city of Seattle as a place that has no safe walking access to schools. The status of Kindergarten through 5th grade students living in this area is not immediately clear.

Cami Culbertson

Culbertson_Aurora Convergence_14Jan14

Kate Reef


An open journal

Welcome to Design Lab’s open journal! Check back each week as students reflect upon their collaborative experience in the Henry Art Gallery’s Test Site. Class starts January 7 and our first charette session will be January 16th from 4:30 to 7:30. Don’t miss it!