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Kent State Architecture Students Redesign Local City Following Downtown Fire

Posted Aug. 4, 2014

Students presented proposals for their visions of Garrettsville

enter photo description
Adil Sharag-Eldin, associate professor of architecture
at Kent State University, discusses his students' work in
the architecture library in Taylor Hall on the Kent Campus.
Kent State students designed proposals for a new
downtown business district for the city of Garrettsville,
which lost much of the downtown area to a March 22 fire.

On March 22, 2014, a massive fire swept through historic Garrettsville, Ohio, destroying an entire commercial block and 13 businesses. Residents in the quaint Portage County village of just over 2,200 people immediately began pulling together, with efforts to relocate the local food bank, which was consumed in the blaze. Some business owners promised to rebuild, but it was clear that the tragedy dramatically changed the character of the village forever.

On July 25, 12 students from Kent State University’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design presented 11 proposals reimagining Garrettsville. The students displayed their visions on about two dozen poster boards. The presentations took place at the village city hall, located at 8213 High St. in Garrettsville, and the event was open to the public.

Adil Sharag-Eldin, Ph.D., associate professor of architecture at Kent State, explains that the proposals involve much more than just replacing downtown buildings.

“It comes from the expanded definition of sustainable design,” Sharag-Eldin says. “Sustainable design includes environmental, social and economic development. So we’re looking at the village from that wide perspective. We want to see how our knowledge can be used to help the village.”

Sharag-Eldin says his students started with extensive research.

“We investigated and learned about Garrettsville,” he says. “We looked at the tax base, demographics, ages, income, jobs, where people work and the pattern of growth of the whole village. With this deeper understanding, we came up with individual proposals to address the issue of economic development.”   

They include, of course, rejuvenating the heart of downtown that burned down, but they also provide a means for the community to get together.

“The fire, even though it was devastating and caused all sorts of problems for a lot of people, brought the community together. So we wanted to make sure the community remains at that level of collaboration and cooperation,” Sharag-Eldin says.

enter photo description
Daniel Gowin, a graduate architecture student at Kent
State University, sits among drawings and plans for a
revitalized downtown Garrettsville, which lost an entire
commercial block of the downtown district to a March 22
fire.

Daniel Gowin, graduate student in Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, says working on the city's design proposal was a unique approach because he had never been given a project site that had been made vacant by tragedy.

“With that [situation] comes a lot of emotion from the community,” Gowin says. “As a designer, you recognize that your design can have a strong impact on the members of the community, so it became a very rewarding experience to see the community reciprocate input whenever they had the opportunity to see the work we had done.

“My vision for Garrettsville is that the city is capable of having a stronger sense of community and identity through gardening,” Gowin continues. “My proposal incorporated a variety of garden types throughout city limits and included a central garden at the site of the fire that would have samples of each garden type (community, entrepreneurial, health, learning and leisure) and act as an event space for the town. Through this intense application of gardening, Garrettsville would become more active through cooperation and competition, and eventually be able to produce enough fruits and vegetables for itself, as well as sell to areas throughout Northeast Ohio.”

Parva Majidi, also a graduate student in Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, says her vision for any village or city is rethinking the way they use natural resources in order to contribute to a healthier environment.

“As I learned more about Garrettsville, it became clear to me that the village has a tight and strong community,” Majidi says. “Therefore, it was important to propose an idea for Garrettsville that could set an example for other cities or villages.

“Garrettsville has a golden opportunity to rebuild its community like never before, one that shows how strong the people are and what they are capable of,” Majidi adds. “My vision for Garrettsville is to provide water activities that will not only boost the economy, but also increase the ecological health and attract more visitors. I focused on the river that runs through the village. Eagle Creek was the genesis of Garrettsville. Attributes of my project include water recreation, waterfall restoration, pathways along the river and an eco-garden. All these features will contribute to a strong community and help build 'Garrettsville Strong.'”

For more information about Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design, visit www.kent.edu/caed.