Six underutilized buildings, three empty lots, and other spaces in North Oakland are being revamped—not by established architects, but by students from Chatham University and Winchester Thurston School.

Since last fall, a combination of undergraduate and graduate Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture students at Chatham have been working on an urban design and development project called the Community-Based Capstone Studio.

“Community-Based Studios create partnerships between academic programs and community leaders in an effort to explore the potential of underutilized sites within a local community,” says Chatham University’s Assistant Professor of Interior Architecture William Biss.

In September, Chatham students started mapping out the sites and conducted a walking tour with the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC). Next month, they will present their final design proposals to community partners and the public.

Each site varies in footage, floor levels, topography, and orientation.

“It gives design students an opportunity to engage in design problems that are more closely related to the realities of most communities and the profession,” says Biss.

It’s not just college students helping reinvigorate Oakland.

A total of 15 Winchester Thurston School high school seniors are working on their own three projects in Oakland through their Urban Research & Design class, including a bike parking project on Craig St., rehabilitating a playground at Dan Marino Field and beautifying a corner at the Citgo gas station.

Even though Chatham and Winchester Thurston School students are working on independent projects in North Oakland with the OPDC, no partnership exists currently.

Chatham chose Oakland through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

Vrabel invited community partners to submit sites for review use in the Capstone Studios. In August the OPDC sent a letter of intent offering nine underutilized sites in North Oakland. A month later, the proposal was reviewed and Interior and Landscape Architecture faculty and administrators selected North Oakland as this year’s Capstone Community Partner.

“The sites offered by OPDC for study and development contain a nice balance of challenges for both Interior Architecture and Landscape Architecture students with varying underutilized lots, buildings and urban corridors,” says Biss.

The project includes varied projects such as the 16,000 square-foot Colonnade building on Centre Ave. with a vacant store front to the 21,750 square-foot parking lot just North of 335 N. Craig St.

Biss says community leaders and local business owners benefit from the studio by receiving a diverse array of design proposals to revitalize the proposed sites.

“Often in community-based design studios, the schematic design concepts generated by the students are or can be used by the community leaders as visual tools to be used in multiple ways, whether raising public awareness, interest in the potentials of a given neighborhood or aid in fund raising for continued development by local design professionals,” says Biss.

The studios are partnering with multiple community organizations, he adds, such as the OPDC, Bellfield Area Citizens Association, Schenley Farms Civic Association and Shadyside Action Coalition.

“I’m looking forward to all of the creative solutions the students might come up with,” says Biss.

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Amanda King is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work can be seen on MSNBC.COM and a number of local publications, from the Post-Gazette to the Beaver County Times. A former journalist for the Bucks County Courier Times, she reported on NJ Gov. Chris Christie. She received her BA in Broadcast Journalism from Point Park University and is working on her first short film about 'The Modern Day Nanny', which examines how technology and education affect this traditional career. She loves telling stories with a social & educational impact.