New York students’ perspective helps people from Warren see its potentialPublished: 6/13/16 @ 12:05
By Ed Runyan
At first glance, it’s difficult to see how the architectural designs created by several New York college students now on display at a downtown art gallery for the vacant home at 355 Washington St. NE could affect the building’s future.
As part of their class work, undergraduate students from the Parsons School of Design freely offered up ideas based on these themes – gathering center, culinary training hearth, greenhouse and educational resource – and answered questions from the dozens of people who showed up at last week’s opening to discuss them.
The building is a vacant, 2,868-square-foot home built in 1912 in what the nonprofit Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and others call the Garden District, just north of downtown.
TNP owns the home, thanks to its partnership with the Trumbull County Land Bank, and has worked with students with Parsons for several years, collaborating with its students and professors to hatch ideas for how to turn vacant structures into useful spaces again.
It might be difficult to imagine how a giant home in a neighborhood hit hard by economic decline could be transformed into something as inspired as a multifloor-educational space for kids or a meeting place.
But Matt Martin, TNP executive director, said the value of such ideas is they provoke people to see beyond the neglected structures and see what the students see.
“There are things people from outside [Warren] can see that we who live here don’t notice every day,” Martin said.
It’s perhaps unreasonable to think an investor will take one of the designs and apply it directly to 355 Washington, but it’s not impossible, Martin said, noting things already happening.
Mark Marvin, the new owner of several Courthouse Square properties, has discussed plans for a craft brewery, bakery and apartments.
The Garden District already has numerous law offices and other small businesses, many of them in large, old homes, Martin noted.
Student Patrick Belli said his instructors at Parsons discourage him from trying to create a design that is so practical that it is ready to use “out of the box.” Instead, they urge him to let his ideas “run free.”
Melissa Holmes, who works for the city’s community development department, helped establish the link between the Parsons students and TNP because she earned her master’s degree from the school three years ago.
Holmes said the fresh view of Warren provided by the students in the past three years “has planted the seed.”
“By coming here and loving our city, they help our residents value what we have here.”