Tag: Fargo

Design Process Blogging at NDSU

I came across a number of blogs this week by M Arch students at North Dakota State, chronicling the progress and process of their studio projects over the past semester. The course is Arch 771: Advanced Architecture Designs taken by fifth year students in the five year Masters degree program offered at NDSU. The project appears to be an infill master plan for the university’s emerging downtown campus. Renaissance Hall, which was NDSU’s first downtown facility opened in fall 2004, in the renovated 100-year old Northern School Supply Building, housing architecture, landscape architecture, and art programs. I attended NDSU my freshman year and took pre-architecture and drawing courses in this building.

In 2008, two more buildings about three blocks north of Renaissance Hall were renovated and expanded to house the College of Business and the remaining architecture studios. Recently a five-story retail and student apartment complex called Cityscape Plaza was completed to accommodate the growth of students downtown. As more university growth takes place downtown it is important to create a cohesive campus downtown. These student proposals begin to look at what could become of this downtown endeavor and ways to link it to the main campus about 12 blocks to the north through visual and physical connectivity.

It’s interesting to see a range of graphical representation of site analysis and proposed modifications. Sketchup was used heavily, but done quite well. Admittedly the blog format as utilized is a bit difficult to navigate at first because most don’t provide an overall summary about the project. I imagine, since multiple teams have blogs, it was either a requirement or recommendation to document their process. It is especially intriguing for me to go through their process since, from my understanding, I would have been in that same course this semester had I not transferred to Iowa State after my freshman year. Additionally it is always fun to see the kind of work being done at other architecture schools. Check out the project blogs below:

> Pushing Fargo Forward
> Epidemic Design
> Interesting Fargo
> Town and Gown
> SeekSolveShow

Fargo preps for major flooding

A community wide effort to protect the Fargo-Moorhead from possible record flooding is in full effect. The Red River of the North is now expected to crest at 39-41 feet as early as Friday, about a foot higher than 1997. A number of bridges have been closed and temporary clay dikes are being built along the riverbank. North Dakota State University has cancelled classes until further notice so students can help with sandbagging and Metro Area Transit buses have suspended normal service to provide transportation for flood volunteers. (Image above: Sandbag Express)

Latest info available from the Fargo Forum and NDSU.

More Flooding?

Looks like Fargo, ND, and vicinity could be facing major flood issues this year…

> WDAY: Forecasters project major Red River flooding
> City of Fargo – Flood 09 Info

Back on Campus: NDSU

NDSU

A lot has been happening at North Dakota State University since I was a student there, my freshman year three years ago. New construction and improvements are being made on campus; NDSU’s downtown presence is expanding, and mixed-use development is picking up next to campus. When I was in Fargo about two weeks ago, I made sure to take a look around and see it all for myself.

Campus
NDSU’s main campus, on the north edge of town, has remained much the same since I was a student there. Of course, in the middle of summer it was certainly more lush and tidy than it is the majority of the cold school year. A couple major changes: the Memorial Union addition is finally reaching completion, and the President’s House right in the heart of campus has been torn down to be replaced with a better, presumably more prestigious home yet to be constructed.

Renovation and expansion of the MU began when I was there, so my memorial of the building was dominated by partial demolition, make-sift, temporary spaces, and excavation where once was a dated plaza and green space of adjacent Churchill Field. In fact, the only time I saw the pre-construction union and open space was at a campus visit in late fall 2004. The new exteriors are nice and modernized but generally underwhelming. The most prominant new facade, facing Churchill Field to the east, is large and distinctive but feels like a barrier between outside and in with only a subtle entrance in the middle. A simple new plaza finishes the outdoor space, complete with a stage for campus events such as Band Day.

Memorial Union addition

Since classes were not in session it was hard telling how successful the plaza will be on a normal school day. I imagine it will be used quite a bit by students and staff, assuming some tables and seating are installed. For a plaza on a budget, it is nice enough and should serve the MU and campus well.

Churchill Field further away from the building had not been restored yet. Unfortunately, my friend Matt tells me some of that space is going to become a parking lot. With a ball diamond fence still in place at the corner, this used to be a popular spot for students to gather for a friendly game of ultimate frisbee or football or just to relax. In my opinion, based on my experience of visiting campus before construction and attending during it, Churchill Field was the closest thing NDSU had to a central greenspace and I had hoped it would retain better than ever. Especially with the rebuilt plaza, it is the perfect space to highlight as the heart of NDSU. I think the parking lot will probably be kept minimal and to the side so a lot of the greenspace should be preserved, but its nonetheless disappointing and will detract from the beauty and definition of the space.

Memorial UnionAs for the inside of the Memorial Union, it was a typical modern student activity center. Most of the interior had been reconfigured, so much of it was hard to pinpoint what had previously been in the space. The expansion to the east (Churchill Field) provides a much larger, improved food court in the basement and general lounge area on the main level. Since these two levels are now much more expansive than they were before, they appear short and closed in since ceiling heights could not be raised. Overall nothing too exciting but the updated interior and improved amenities will be beneficial.

Other improvements on campus include new, modern wayfinder/map signs and an expanded MU bus shelter. Ceres Hall, which houses the Registrar, Financial Aid and other administrative offices is also undergoing renovations with a rear modern glass stairwell being added. Ceres is a beautiful old building that was in need of updating on the inside.

Emerging Campustown

A few new buildings have gone up along 12th Ave N, next to campus. Formerly old houses and empty lots, there are now two new, 3-story apartment buildings with ground floor commercial space, with the looks of a third one on the way. One of them, at 12th Ave and 17th Street, faces the side street and provides parking to the side with the vacant commercial space fronting the parking lot. The placement of the building and it’s relationship to the sidewalk and street is not preferable but at least is mixed-use.

The second new building, which is at 12th and Albrecht Blvd, closer to the core of campus, is a more urban development. It fronts the sidewalk along 12th Ave and takes up a majority of the width of the site, placing parking in the rear rather than the front or side. This will help build up the elevation along the street and hopefully eventually be apart of a denser, more urban-feeling, pedestrian-friendly street that will be signature of the NDSU campus and community. It is truly oriented towards pedestrians first and cars second – the way it should be right by a pedestrian-heavy college campus.

As we were walking by, the owner was working on getting Jitters Cafe ready to open for business in a week. He let us peek inside and said to come back for free stuff when they open. Next door a coming soon sign was posted for Jimmy John’s – a staple of any true campustown. Directly across the street from NDSU’s major academic buildings and library, this is certain to be a busy place at lunchtime and throughout the day when classes start up.

My friend informed me a fraternity house down the block will be demolished for another apartment building. So it seems this trend will only continue and NDSU might someday have a more urban, vibrant neighborhood with additional services and conveniences for students and visitors.

North of campus on 19th Ave N, where some auto-centric businesses and restaurants already existed, a fairly large, new mixed-use apartment building has gone up next to a reconstructed Stop N Go gas station. Despited being named the Stop N Go Center, it is an attractive building that increases density and mix of uses while blending well with the existing car-oriented strip that is likely to remain that way.

NDSU Downtown Campus
NDSU’s first downtown facility opened to students fall 2004 in the 100-year old Northern School Supply Building, renovated into studio, classroom and office space for architecture, landscape architecture, and art programs. The building is simply known as NDSU Downtown and provides some of the finest studio facilities in the nation.

My year at NDSU was the building’s second year of use. I had first year pre-architecture studio and drawing class downtown. The renovations left structural and mechanical components exposed, as well as remnants of the building’s past uses.

Richard H. Barry Hall - NDSU DowntownIn 2006, two more buildings were purchased to expand NDSU’s presence downtown. The former Pioneer Mutual Life Insurance Building at 2nd Ave N and 10th Street, is currently being renovated and getting an addition for a new home for the College of Business. The building, renamed Richard H. Barry Hall is to be ready for classes one year from now, according to a countdown on the College of Business’s website. A new business building had previously been proposed for the west end of the main campus on 18th Street, but was scrapped for the building downtown.

Klai Hall - NDSU DowntownAbout a block east of Barry Hall, the former Lincoln Mutual Life & Casualty Insurance Building is finishing up renovations and addition for more downtown space for architecture. Renamed Klai Hall, the building will bring the entire Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture downtown, starting this academic year. Once all completed, 9th Street in between Barry and Klai halls will be closed and a greenspace will be created to form a mini campus. This is about two blocks north of the original NDSU Downtown Building.

It will be interesting to see the downtown campus when finished and how it will change the dynamic of NDSU’s main campus, as well as its affect on the downtown area. Already, developers are looking into more downtown housing for students and nearby businesses should certainly benefit. No student parking will be provided at the new campus, but transit service frequency between campus and downtown is to increase. Unfortunately many architecture students will still need to drive since they will be at studio well after buses stop running. It will be a good opportunity for increased transit use for businesses students and faculty overall, and will help invigorate an already successful downtown. Unlike the main campus where commercial and mixed-use development is starting to occur, the downtown campus is surrounded by it. Downtown campus will certainly be a vibrant and inviting place for classes and studio work, sure to attract even more prospective students.

Metro Area Transit

Metro Area Transit

Fargo and Moorhead’s joint bus system, Metro Area Transit, was the first system on which I was a regular rider. For many students, college is their first experience with public transportation, whether for convenience on campus or for reliance due to not having a car. Though I wasn’t such a transit enthusiast back then as I am now, I certainly wasn’t against it and wanted to make the best of it and judge for myself how convenient and easy or inconvenient and slow it actually was. I also did not (and still do not) have a car, so before making friends it was really my only means of getting around town. Since campus is relatively small, I pretty much just walked or biked to class and my on campus job, as my dorm was only about a block from the hub of academic buildings along Albrecht Blvd.

Two circulator routes ran through campus, Route 31 On-Campus Circulator every 15 minutes, and Route 32 Near-Campus Circulator, serving University Village and other apartments nearby every 30 minutes. I would occasionally ride one of these a few blocks to or from class if it happened to be coming by at the right time. A new night circulator, Route 35 started during spring semester 2008, running between campus and University Village from 8 – 10:07pm.

My fall semester (2006) I would occasionally ride the bus out to Target or West Acres mall to run errands on the weekends. It would require a transfer downtown at the GTC so all together it probably took half an hour each way – not bad, but certainly longer than driving. Route 15 serves West Acres from downtown and was always pretty busy. One time I recall standing room only on the ride back with nearly 50 passengers on board according to a fellow rider’s count – quite crowded for a 30-foot low floor bus.

In the spring I had class at NDSU Downtown twice a week so I began taking the bus regularly, as most of my classmates did too. Route 13 connects campus to downtown ad the GTC. Presumably after NDSU Downtown opened, MAT added 13B to provide more frequent service between campus and downtown on school days. While 13A runs along the regular route, 13B does not run as far north so its a quicker trip back to campus. The two routes alternate, each with 30 minute headways, to provide 15 minute service to downtown and back during the day.

NDSU bus shelterEarlier this year MAT expanded the Memorial Union bus shelter on campus and added a bus locator display, utilizing on-board GPS to track the whereabouts of 13A and 13B. With a very simple time schedule, I’m not sure this was necessary, but with new buses it probably wasn’t a major expense to implement and has implications for more trackers around the metro that could improve legibility and ease-of-use for the whole system. The tracker should be nice in the winter when buses typically run a few minutes behind schedule due to road conditions and inclement weather.

With the growth of NDSU’s downtown campus, MAT is planning for additional bus service between campuses. Especially for business students who do not have to essentially live at studio like architecture students, this should be a convenient means of getting between classes. Evidently no student parking will be provided at either of the two new campus buildings, which is a concern of architecture students who frequently will be working there all hours of the night when buses do not run.

Generally Metro Area Transit is a well run transit system with 22 routes serving Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo. I always had a good experience riding, with friendly drivers, well maintained buses, and sufficient schedule/route information provided.

When I was back in the area last weekend, I stopped by the GTC to get some pictures and even rode a route for a few blocks (my old Bison Card still grants me free rides). It was fun to check it out again, especially now that I have a better understanding of the ins and outs of transit operation as a driver for CyRide. MAT is a decent system that is certainly better and more adaptive than Cedar Rapids Transit and could probably rival CyRide if it had the same resources and ridership demand.

Check out my MAT bus pictures on Flickr.
More info on MAT’s website at www.matbus.com.

Fargo Revisited

Last weekend (August 8-11) I traveled to Fargo, North Dakota, for my friend’s wedding. I attended my first year of college at North Dakota State in Fargo from 2005 to 2006, so it was nice to get back and see my old friends and the city that was my first home away from home. I was sure to make time to look around a bit and see what has changed. The city was just as I remembered it, but I quickly realized the character and qualities of Fargo that I had come to admire, especially in the older neighborhoods and downtown. It was sort of like coming home.

Fargo’s older areas – within a mile or two radius of downtown – have aged nicely. Matured tree canopies have formed over residential streets, turning these axes of movement into spaces of their own. Mostly modest homes are well maintained. Residential streets flow harmoniously into downtown – with large yet unintrusive MeritCare hospital on the north end and beautifully simple Island Park to the south. There are no significant physical or psychological barriers surrounding downtown so there is good pedestrian connectivity between downtown and nearby neighborhoods.

I visited downtown briefly the morning before I left town. I parked on the north end of Broadway near the old Great Northern depot and walked down to the GTC and then stopped by NDSU Downtown. Walking down the sidewalk I could sense the liveliness around me. Despite massive suburban growth out west and south, downtown is still successful and retains the community’s heart.

Two years ago I scoffed off Fargo’s downtown as minimal or less impressive than that of my hometown Cedar Rapids simply because it had less of a “big city” feel – and big city skyline – that I perceived back home. Of course now I realize human scale design, pedestrian-friendliness, and 24-7 vibrancy are the traits actually good urban downtowns, not superficial towers that likely contribute little to sidewalk activity. Even before the flood that devoured Cedar Rapids’ downtown, I believe Fargo’s downtown is still a more dynamic city center. While downtown Cedar Rapids is/was certainly a bigger employment center, most of those jobs are in the 9-5 office crowd. Fargo’s downtown seems to be much more diverse with a more significant retail and restaurant scene. They also didn’t tear down as many of their older buildings that give downtowns their historic character and human-scale.

13th Ave S, Fargo - West Fargo, ND

Away from downtown and the older neighborhoods, Fargo is booming to the south and west, furthering suburban sprawl far out in to the plains. 13th Ave S, west of I-29, and extending into the city limits of West Fargo is the metro’s principle shopping corridor. It is big box central, a landscape of asphalt and low rise retailers. For over two miles, the roadway is characterized by heavy traffic, cheap buildings, and very few trees. I actually didn’t go down the whole way while I was there, but my guess is that much has remained the same.

Woodhaven Plaza

There are signs of some more urban-minded development on the outskirts, like Woodhaven Plaza at 40th Ave S and 42nd Street S, a three-story, mixed facade building with commercial space and upper residential units for sale. Somewhat awkwardly, an enclosed glass walkway is juxtaposed against the front of the ground level storefronts, for the winter months. Even though this development is an improvement over the monotonous strip mall or big box, it is still includes a sea of parking, is not built up to the sidewalk, and is surrounded by typical suburban subdivisions. So while these developments make an effort to be more urban and amenable to pedestrians, the fact is most people will still arrive by car because it is still more convenient than alternative modes.

All in all I had a good time on my visit to Fargo. Its a nice community that I enjoyed being a part of. Read more about NDSU and Metro Area Transit in my following posts.

New island park in Fargo

The old Great Northern Depot on the north end of downtown Fargo, North Dakota, has occupied a number of different businesses since it finally closed as a depot in 1986. Between 1995 and 2005, the building was used as a few different restaurants. In 2007, Island Park Cycles (from which I purchased my bike while attending NDSU in 2005) moved from its site south of downtown by Island Park into the Great Northern depot. Owner Tom Smith is now working with the Fargo Park District to build a small park space over what is currently excess pavement between the building and Broadway to the west. According to a March 12, 2008 story in the Fargo Forum, Smith wants to improve the approachability from Broadway. This should be a nice little space when completed and really improve the aesthetic of the depot and the north edge of downtown along Broadway.


Image taken from Fargo Forum website.

Links
> Island Park Cycles
> Great Northern Railyway Depot history

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