Notre Dame Architecture Students Participate in Dean’s Charrette

Dean Stefanos Polyzoides

New dean, new traditions. Stefanos Polyzoides, the Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of the School of Architecture, proposed the first Dean’s Charrette, a week-long intensive planning and design session for architecture students and faculty.

“We’re starting a new journey,” said Polyzoides. “We’re trying to expand our presence in the city and world through teaching by learning in place.”

For the inaugural charrette, in collaboration with the city of South Bend and community partners, a group of 13 students and 11 faculty members tackled a redesign of a section of William Street in South Bend that stretches from Lincoln Way West to Western Avenue downtown.

“The primary deficit of this part of the city is the absence of a coherent, friendly, and generally attractive public realm. Because the streets are devoid of streetscapes, and the carriageways are very wide, drivers are encouraged to speed,” said Polyzoides.

While the area was originally residential, when a commuter corridor was added in the 1940s, traffic increased. Houses were replaced by apartments, businesses, parking lots, and vacant lots. Polyzoides believed that the School of Architecture could redesign the area to revitalize it, and thus the charrette was launched. In one week, the students and faculty contributed 2,000 hours of brainstorming—the equivalent of someone working full-time for a year.

“The difference between one person working for a year and this number of people working all together in one place for a week is really what the magic of charretting is all about,” said Polyzoides.

The team proposed to calm traffic, improve walkability, and increase density with the hope of attracting people to live and invest in the area, said Polyzoides. To do so, they suggested the addition of medians, bike lanes, and trees along the cross streets, three public squares to create communal space, and a market hall to serve as a median while also providing stalls for local vendors. They designated new zoning for commercial versus residential use, and developed a housing toolkit with plans for homes, duplexes, multiplexes, and townhomes based on lot sizes.

Maggie McDonald, a fourth-year student, said of the experience, “It gave us a taste of what it would be like to work in an office. It felt very much like what I want my career to be.

“We’ve designed different housing types as studio projects, but what I really liked about the charrette was its fast pace,” McDonald said. “It really forced us to understand the purpose and essence of particular housing types and what they had to offer to the community.”

The ideas from the charrette will be gathered into a final plan to be formally proposed to the city. The city has also signed on for a second Dean’s Charrette, which the School of Architecture will now host twice a year at the start of the fall and spring semesters.

The School of Architecture participates in the Catholic mission of Notre Dame by generating ideas from leaders, students, and public servants in order to think about how we can live together in ways that promote human flourishing and growth for everyone.