Week 42: Made in Opa-locka Fundraiser

Inside an airplane hangar at the Executive Airport, the OLCDC put on an exciting event to support all art activities currently underway in Opa-locka. Violinists, dancers, MC’s, artists, and the “conch man” (preparing the Bahamian sea food speciality) celebrated this past year’s achievements. Christian and I are glad to be a part of the larger efforts underway in Magnolia North. Cheers to the OLCDC!  

-- Jennifer Bonner

Keith Reed, "The Miami Conch Man" preparing conch salad for guests at the event.

Keith Reed, "The Miami Conch Man" preparing conch salad for guests at the event.

Week 28: Friday night at Lowe's BBQ Stand

Eric Nelson, a photographer and designer from Michigan and Brooklyn, came down to Opa-locka to photograph the neighborhood. On Friday afternoon, I met up with Eric to show him around the area. As I have mentioned previously, this part of town is notoriously dangerous and crime ridden. So two Midwestern former architecture grads stick out like a sore thumb -- though possibly Eric more so than I. Eric was up for partaking in the local gathering, which was a Friday night street party at Lowe’s BBQ.

Located on Ali Baba Avenue, at the northern most tip of the street, adjacent to the barricade is a small 650 square foot shop. It is a modest looking structure and on most days appears closed. Following non-traditional business hours, Lowe’s doesn’t open until 3pm when the neighborhood children are out of school. LeRoy “Butch” Major, is the owner and operator of the BBQ stand. Butch has a raspy voice and is a known figure in the area. While not too fond of Eric’s camera, he was still willing to allow us to hang out at the shop.

A ritual of sorts, an amateur DJ provides the music, after a couple drinks the locals provide the entertainment -- and of course Butch provides the food. Calling the shop “modest” is a compliment: one fryer, a stove, a grill on the back patio, and two freezers are the extent of the cooking facilities. This does not prevent Butch from cooking amazing food for the locals. Eric and I arrived just as the party was livening up. Butch offered us both a beer as we spoke to him about his time living here and the types of characters that frequent his business.

Surprisingly, Butch was not hesitant at all to answer my questions. Before we knew it, an Eric had recorded an hour worth of conversation. During this informal interview, Butch continued to serve us local delicacies only found in Miami: chicken souse, conch salad, and conch fritters. Chicken souse is a heavy soup filled with spices and roux. Conch is a type of seafood with a chewy texture. I had tried fried conch before (but have to admit that I did not like it at all). However, Butch's conch was delicious. This only reinforced our conviction that Butch has the talent and ability to run a successful food business in Magnolia North -- but he lacks the appropriate space and access to a small bit of finance he needs in order to be successful.

We met a lot of interesting people that evening ranging from military veterans to local jesters. For as much negativity this neighborhood gets, everyone welcomed us into their Friday night gathering.

-- Gemane Barnes

Week 27: Paint Test

The team decided to do a series of test paints on the exterior of the Quadplex building (the future home of the Artist Hotel and Gallery). One of the proposals is to paint the entire building including trim, doors, and light fixtures with a singular color — what we've dubbed “Moorish turquoise.” Christian was in town the weekend I began this new project. After marking off four different locations, I worked to test out various patterns. The painting of the walls took a couple days to complete because in typical Miami fashion (summertime) it rained torrentially.

One test surface was a flat square. The remaining surfaces were multifaceted with objects such as door knobs and exterior lamps attached to the building. After the first coat dried, the next step was to create a secondary pattern that would wrap the entire building. This mega-graphic might be a system of orthogonal, diagonal, or curvilinear stripes. Christian created custom laser cut templates to use for the experiment. In order to view the secondary graphic (also the same color turquoise), we wanted to use glass beads in the paint so the pattern would be subtle and slightly reflective. This technique is used by most city transportation departments when marking street traffic patterns on roadways. The caveat is that when city workers use these beads, they are merely dropping them onto a horizontal surface; I was tasked with getting the beads to stick to a vertical wall surface.

Traditionally, the beads are reflective at night when vehicle headlights illuminate the surface. We wanted to simulate this phenomenon on the exterior façade. Each day, as it begins to get dark outside a secondary pattern would become more visible. Unfortunately I could not figure out how to achieve this effect. By submerging the beads in the paint as it is being mixed, the beads absorb the paint and are no longer reflective. I tried tossing them against the wall, using an eye dropper to gather beads and spray them against the wall, and other techniques that were all moot.

We're still working on this technique. Any suggestions welcomed!

-- Gemane Barnes

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Week 26: Seeking Out Potential Partners

Throughout the development of the Made in Opa-locka project, we constantly switch roles from designer to business strategist. Not only are we deeply invested in strategizing property acquisition, programming, funding, design work, and business models, we are also committed to seeking out the potential partners who will give this project life.

This week I’m in Opa-locka to sit down with neighboring nonprofits and community organizations to introduce our ideas for three Public Houses. With the Made in Opa-locka programming booklet in tow, Germane set up several appointments for us to meet these potential collaborators.

During one of our brain-storming sessions we developed a strategy for how the architectural space and programming might work. This model is similar to a standard in Florida’s hospitality industry — the timeshare. (Indeed, the first time shares in the US were right next door in Ft. Lauderdale!)

Made in Opa-locka’s Public Houses offer three distinct public spaces: 1. Performance Space (for watching movies, poetry, dance, or music performances), 2. Office Landscape (for tutoring and business incubator), and 3. Gallery Space. In this time-share scenario, partner non-profit organizations and individual businesses would not occupy the Public Houses permanently. Instead, they would use the space proportionately, as needed, much like a timeshare. Partners might use the office landscape space for programming one week and capitalize on space flexibility by running a performance based program the following week. 

-- Jennifer Bonner

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Week 22: History Miami Exhibition

A lot of patience is required when engaging in a community development project like Made in Opa-locka. One could argue that a large portion of time and effort is dedicated to finding and communicating with your targeted audience. At this point, I’m not entirely sure who our intended audience is -- and that's what we're working to clarify. At an immediate level we want to gain support from the people who live in the neighborhood, but we also need to attract donors to make sure the project has a strong financial footing. We also want to communicate the project to the larger Miami-Dade community as a viable alternative to the New Urbanist and neo-traditionalist approaches that define most of what is built in Miami. This week an opportunity to engage with a broader audience materialized, almost overnight.

Willie Logan (CEO of OLCDC) was asked by History Miami to participate in an exhibit about the history of Opa-locka’s Moorish architecture. Willie agreed with the condition that the exhibition not be only backwards-looking but also forward-thinking. He wisely proposed that the exhibition also showcase the various initiatives underway in Opa-locka, including Made in Opa-locka.

Due to an extremely quick turnaround time, our plan was to exhibit photographic prints of the targeted properties where we are working, display the Micro-Enterprise models, and hang large colorful flags announcing the various activities to come to the neighborhood (such as “Recorded in Opa-locka,” “Designed in Opa-locka,” and “Dance in Opa-locka").

Alongside with museum staff, Aileen and I installed the project in one night. Approximately 150 people were in attendance for the opening night of “Opa-locka: Mirage City” (see more information about the exhibition here). Visitors to HistoryMiami were able to learn about the history of the Arabian-themed development as well as get a hopeful glimpse of its future. The work will be on display for approximately three months, so if you happen to be in Miami before September 8th, definitely stop by History Miami!

-- Germane Barnes

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Week 17: Meeting with the Client

It's early June in Miami and today Jennifer and I are both in Opa-locka to meet with our client, Dr. Willie Logan of the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC). While Germane is our man-on-the-ground, splitting his time between the OLCDC's main office in the historic downtown of Opa-locka and in Magnolia North, these face-to-face meetings are essential.

This trip we're talking design approach: What's the system of adding small commercial- and service-oriented additions to single-family homes in Magnolia North? How do we ensure they are unique enough to respond to the particularities of their use (from a coffee shop to a laundromat) while still remaining cost-effective to build in bulk? How do we use the zoning overlay we've been discussing with the City of Opa-locka to determine the parameters of the form. It's a discussion that bounces fluidly from design and aesthetics to business planning and construction. In order to shape this discussion we've brought a series of models of these existing houses (in gold) and examples of the formal/structural system we are planning to deploy.

-- Christian Stayner

Meeting with Willie Logan at OLCDC headquarters. 

Meeting with Willie Logan at OLCDC headquarters. 

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Week 17: Micro-Enterprise Design Charrette

Each morning the cleaning person at the Miami Lakes TownePlace Suites must wonder what exactly is taking place in Room 305. Over the few days Jennifer and I have set up a temporary office and model-making studio in the living room of our two-bedroom extended-stay hotel suite. There are X-acto knives everywhere. Foam tiny models take up every horizontal surface in the space. The ottoman was turned into makeshift desks and the micro-kitchen is littered with popcorn and gold paper. Jennifer has Lil Wayne playing on repeat.

In order to determine the parameters of the forms for the Micro-enterprise additions (small, 200-400-square foot additions to existing single-family homes), we've developed multiple options for each of the initial six buildings we've located and are in the process of acquiring in partnership with the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC).

Yesterday, Jennifer, Germane and I headed out for a photoshoot in Magnolia North. After some coaxing -- with a few moments of humorous but near disastrous moments of duct-tape-in-the-hair -- we got the photo we wanted: what we're calling "Micro-enterprise Model Models." (It's a funny nod to Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi standing at the edge of Las Vegas in 1968 -- which was, in turn, a nod to painter Rene Magritte's 1964 painting Son of Man.)

Where are these models headed? Los Angeles, of course -- to become part of a guerrilla architecture exhibition taking place in the parking lot at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Thanks in advance our friendly Delta baggage handlers for not busting up our models in the cargo hold.) Over the years Jennifer and I have become masters economy-ticket model transporters, especially on the luxurious Los Angeles-Miami route. We know the overhead bin dimensions down to the centimeter.

-- Christian Stayner

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Week 16: Local Miami Artists

Sometimes my role as designer-in-residence for the OLCDC allows me to meet interesting people who are contributing to the effort of revitalizing Opa-locka for the better. Dr. Willie Logan, CEO of the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC), is talking to several artists from the South Florida arts community about Opa-locka. This week I was introduced to Carlos Betancourt and Alberto Latorre, two local artists from Puerto Rico who call Miami home. Carlos has been a part of Miami’s art scene for years, migrating first from Miami Beach to Wynwood and now possibly to Opa-locka. Alberto, an architect in his own right, is Carlos’ manager. They were both interesting people and we hope to have them involved in the Opa-locka transformation. Check out their work here. It’s exciting to think about how the arts can add aesthetic and economic cohesion to a community that deserves both those things.

-- Germane Barnes

Week 15: Rainbow Park Elementary Career Day

I spend a lot of time inside the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC) building, but my primary role as Project Manager for Made in Opa-locka is to get out into the neighborhood and engage with people, both formally and informally.

Chris, the Community Organizer at the OLCDC, helps by suggesting more formal opportunities for how to meet local residents. He always passes along emails and invitations to attend events such as the County Commissioner’s meetings and after-school programs. This week he invited me to Rainbow Park Elementary School for Career Day. Oftentimes the participants of career day at an underperforming school like Rainbow Park might include a policeman, fireman, parole officer, security guard, postal worker, and maybe a bus driver -- generally they are governmental occupations of authority. I was happy to to represent a less authoritative occupation at career day, that of artist and architect.

Many of the children who live in the Triangle attend Rainbow Park. We thought it would be great to tell them about the Made in Opa-locka project unfolding just around the corner from their homes. We also wanted to learn from the students how we might incorporate their needs and opinions into the project.

Not long after I arrived that morning, in walked the usual suspects of career day volunteers: a policeman, paramedic, security guard, postal worker, and to my surprise a hair stylist.

My presentation was to a third grade class. I asked if they knew what an “architect” was. One student replied, “Someone who paints houses.” Another spoke up, “Someone who makes paintings.” Talk about a circular answer! After engaging in some call-and-response I showed the students an animation of an architecture project as well as some drawings and renderings of buildings. I quickly learned that it does not take much effort to impress nine and ten year olds. Nearing the end of the presentation I asked what the children wanted to be when they grow up. Suddenly there were a lot of future architects in the crowd. The children were very excited and loud. Very loud. But I loved every second of it. A few ambitious ones wanted hugs, otherwise they went to their next class room and the fourth graders arrived.

I know the common adage of “kids say the darndest things” is overused but they really do. Over the course of a day I was told numerous times that “you can’t be an architect, you’re too young”, or asked to return when the children graduate from the school. One child even expressed skepticism when discussing the changes proposed and underway in Magnolia North. It’s alarming when an eleven-year-old kid understands the difficulties of making changes in the neighborhood they call home. Overall it was a very memorable day, the kids were amazing;  I had a blast!

-- Germane Barnes

3rd graders at Rainbow Park Elementary eagerly answer Germane's question, "What does an architect do?" at Career Day. 

3rd graders at Rainbow Park Elementary eagerly answer Germane's question, "What does an architect do?" at Career Day. 

Students take runs drawing their ideas. 

Students take runs drawing their ideas. 

Germane shows students where the first Public House will be located in Magnolia North with Google Maps. 

Germane shows students where the first Public House will be located in Magnolia North with Google Maps. 

Week 13: Conversations with Marc Simmons, FRONT Inc.

Miami-Dade County has one of the strongest building codes in the country. Hurricane prone southern Florida is a challenging environment to build large glass facades. We turned to Marc Simmons of FRONT (and a colleague of mine at Georgia Tech School of Architecture) to begin a conversation about our ideas for the three Public House storefronts. Note: FRONT is the façade consultant on the recently completed Perez Art Museum Miami.

Our design strategy for Made in Opa-locka’s facades is both graphic and programmatic:

1.     Moorish Turquoise: Large glass façade cuts will be made into existing homes to reveal public spaces stuffed within the interior. All Public Houses will also be painted a monochromatic Pantone 326U that we’ve affectionately called “Moorish Turquoise.”

2.     Grillz: All micro-businesses will be clad with a gold expanded metal. These surfaces will act as a rainscreen stretched and wrapped around a more conventional wood frame wall construction. Known as Grillz, these highly reflective golden façades create a graphic identity for neighborhood businesses.

As the architectural design develops in upcoming months, we look forward to many more conversations with Simmons about façade details and ingenious solutions. 

-- Jennifer Bonner

Micro Spaces: Gold metal facade // Public Spaces: Monochromatic exterior paint

Micro Spaces: Gold metal facade // Public Spaces: Monochromatic exterior paint

The facade cut will become a large storefront window to reveal the new interior public programs. 

The facade cut will become a large storefront window to reveal the new interior public programs. 

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Week 12: Opa-locka Flea Market

The first day I arrived in this city I was taken on a tour, due to the size of the city, a rather quick tour. One of the notable locations was a flea market on the southern part of the city. We did not enter the property but enough was spoken about it to give a sense of importance. I decided it was time to visit the market and see what else interesting goes on in Opa-Locka.

So many tires. It’s astonishing how many tire shops there are upon entering the market. If you are not being flagged down by someone trying to sell you tires you are not in the correct location. The first 15 stalls are all owned by various forms of tire shops: used, new, damaged, etc. It was impressive, the sheer amount of tires that were being peddled. Once you get past the bombardment of car accessories I saw a variety of stalls filled with toilet paper, fruit, and used appliances.

Dispersed within the market are also places to purchase food, which were all closed by the time I arrived that day at 4pm. (The flea market is open until 6pm daily.) My intent was not only to observe how the flea market works in Opa-locka, but also to see what types of businesses were located there.  

Ideally, we might find local entrepreneurs here looking to expand their business to the Triangle. I will return at some point and see what else I can discover.

-- Germane Barnes

 

Week 10: Barbershop

Opa-locka is a food desert (a term that is up for debate, but my own experience is that it's truly impossible to get decent, healthy food within a reasonable distance -- certainly more so than in more affluent parts of the city). A large struggle working in the area is what to eat on days that I do not bring a lunch. There is only so much starch filled and fried foods that a person can devour.

When Christian and Jennifer are in town we search for new locations to eat -- in order to discover new parts of Opa-locka and the surrounding neighborhoods. This weekend Christian was in town working on a programming document and we needed to find a location to grab lunch.

As we were waiting for a restaurant to open (it was early on a Sunday morning, the cook's car had broken down) Christian decided to get a haircut. The barbershop is a sacred place in low-income communities. Everything is discussed in the barbershop from talk about the city council elections to who should be traded on the local sports team. There were not a lot of patrons in the shop this afternoon.

As we walked in, someone immediately asked if it were I that was getting a haircut, I smiled and said “Nope, he is” and pointed to Christian. The barber looked a little shocked, then asked Christian to sit on his throne. The barber asked how he would like his hair styled and they both looked lost as to how to accomplish what Christian wanted. Personally, I thought it was hilarious. The barber began cutting off a lot of hair and needless to say I was a bit worried that it was going to be disastrous. However, when he finished the haircut looked pretty damn good. What started as an adventure to find some new places to eat ended with Christian getting a haircut and programmatic thoughts a hair salon or barbershop for Made in Opa-locka.

-- Germane Barnes

Christian ready for the haircut. Notice the air compressor hoses used to get rid of cut hair -- the same ones you'd use with a nail gun on a construction site!

Christian ready for the haircut. Notice the air compressor hoses used to get rid of cut hair -- the same ones you'd use with a nail gun on a construction site!

Week 7: Pop-Up Park

As far as sleep goes it was a short night. Such is the life in architecture. During the installation of the cardboard models at the Pop-Up Park on Saturday we had our first introduction to Miami winds.

Although the models were reinforced for stability, nothing could stop the consecutive gusts of wind that day. Within minutes the cardboard homes started tumbling down the street. The rest were reduced to a pile of rubble. This was both frustrating and hilarious watching the houses roll away. A lot of time and effort was spent planning, designing, constructing, and transporting the models only to watch them fail in a kind of spectacular fashion.

But the show must go on, correct? Duct tape to the rescue! With the help of the AmeriCorps volunteers, friends of the OLCDC, and Golin Harris we began reconstructing the few remaining homes that were salvageable. It was quite the team-building activity.

One of our primary goals was to initiate interaction between the residents of the neighborhood and the Made in Opa-locka project. On that front, I believe we were successful. The participants of the Pop-Up Park were able to witness all of our foibles and during our embarrassment were able to find out what exactly we were trying to display. Whatever works I guess. As the conclusion of the event, we allowed everyone to spray paint on the homes before we disassembled them.

This was also an opportunity for Jennifer and me to meet a lot of the residents within the Triangle. Onto the next steps in our design process…

-- Germane Barnes

Setting up the Micro-Enterprise structures before the Pop-Up Park begins. 

Setting up the Micro-Enterprise structures before the Pop-Up Park begins. 

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Week 7: Cardboard Everywhere

As the project manager for the Made In Opa-locka project I have a lot of responsibilities. The latest involves creating a budget and sourcing materials for our involvement in the Pop-Up Park event. We will create scaled-models of the Micro-Enterprise structures to be on display. Brasil, the local OLCDC handy man, and I drove north to a company called Mr. Box in Sunrise, Florida to pick up our order. 80 4’x8’ pieces of single-ply cardboard was awaiting our arrival.

Jennifer came into town for this event and we began building the models immediately. We began constructing these massive models approximately five feet tall. We had several people helping us with this mission—Aileen, Dean, and Chris—thanks for all of the help! The first two homes were difficult to assemble, but then we developed a system of construction which made the rest much easier. The next step involved renting a large UHaul truck to transport the model homes to the Triangle. All together we logged 15 consecutive hours of sweat equity into these model homes. We finished at 3:00am. Now off to bed before the event tomorrow…

-- Germane Barnes

Germane spray paints the cardboard for tomorrow's Pop-Up Park before the sunsets. 

Germane spray paints the cardboard for tomorrow's Pop-Up Park before the sunsets. 

Germane and Chris assemble the first cardboard structure. 

Germane and Chris assemble the first cardboard structure. 

Week 6: Pop-up Park Announcement

I cannot emphasize enough how many resources the Triangle is lacking. One of those resources is a park. The Opa-locka Community Development Corporation (OLCDC) is determined to bring change to the urban environment; in the meantime, they are hosting a series of Pop-up Parks on a vacant lot at the corner of Washington and James Street on Saturday, March 16. Our team will participate in the event by building seven Micro-Enterprise structures out of cardboard for the children of the neighborhood. Christian developed a flyer to announce the event and I began to research how graffiti artists apply their decals to buildings.  With the help of Jennifer and Dean (a friend and law student at University of Miami), we papered the façade of 14805 Johnson Street within a matter of hours.

-- Germane Barnes

Germane papers the facade of the future Public Artist Hotel with the announcement of next week's Pop-Up Park.  

Germane papers the facade of the future Public Artist Hotel with the announcement of next week's Pop-Up Park.  

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Christian designs a flyer for the event.

Christian designs a flyer for the event.

Week 5: The Best Jerk Chicken

Opa-locka is known for its Caribbean influences: Bahamian, Jamaican, and Haitian cultures can be spotted everywhere throughout the city. There is a plethora of restaurants that serve delicious Caribbean food, including a main staple called “conch.” A seafood, conch is served in as many forms as you can imagine. It's fried, boiled, chilled, and even in a salad. Another common dish is rice and peas. A few other selections included curry chicken, curry goat, ox tails, and my new favorite, jerk chicken.

Across the street from the OLCDC headquarters is a small strip of thrift stores. Rather small and nondescript store fronts littered with old furniture and clothes. The last one on the strip is home to a Jamaican restaurant called “Family Catering.” From the outside, it is hard to decipher if it’s another thrift store or if it’s something entirely different. This family owned restaurant prepares the food each morning and when it runs out, they close for the day. I tend to prefer places like this; you can tell that every item is made with care. Some days jerk chicken may be on the menu and other days it may not. The family matriarch who doubles as the head chef changes the menu daily.

This place is a gem. It is precisely what we are looking to do inside the Triangle — to support and help start new small, cottage industries — with a local clientele and a dedication to producing a small-scale good. Many people have culinary skills, but how many have the entrepreneurial drive to open their own business? If we can find residents with similar characteristics as this family-owned Jamaican restaurant, I am almost certain that the project will be a success.

-- Germane Barnes

Germane and Dean stop in Family Catering for lunch. 

Germane and Dean stop in Family Catering for lunch. 

Week 4: Trip to the Rural Studio

During early conversations with our client, we felt it was important to stop talking about ideas and to actually stand in front of some examples already realized in proven. In order to describe our intentions to the client, we found it useful to provide tangible examples — what we call a collection of “best practices.” Willie Logan, Christian, Germane, and I headed out to the Rural Studio located in Greensboro, Alabama, to study the work produced by students and faculty at Auburn University. As an alumna of the Rural Studio, I knew the tour would provoke lively discussions amongst our team in our rented SUV as we covered many miles of the so-called "Black Belt" of the South (named due to the color of the soil).

At its best, the Rural Studio is an architectural experiment that foregrounds the social and economic complexities of our world. These experiments are disciplinary and highly imaginative strategies about cross-programming and how to build in poverty stricken communities. The buildings constructed at the Rural Studio are not bare minimum spaces for the underserved of rural west Alabama, instead they are bold and deeply rooted in the “real” allowing all citizens the opportunity to have an “architect.”  

We spent two days touring projects: Boys and Girls Club of Akron, HERO, Newbern Volunteer Fire Department, Hale County Dog Pound, Safe House Museum, and Perry Lakes Park. During our long drives, we found ourselves critiquing projects that didn’t seem to work and admiring those that capitalized on resources. For us, Made in Opa-locka needs much development to be a success. We welcome the challenge!

-- Jennifer Bonner

Pamela Dorr, Director of HERO (Hale Empowerment & Revitalization Organization, Inc.) gives us a tour. The building is a Rural Studio project from 2000.

Pamela Dorr, Director of HERO (Hale Empowerment & Revitalization Organization, Inc.) gives us a tour. The building is a Rural Studio project from 2000.

We had lunch with Pamela Dorr at our favorite place in Greensboro--PIE LAB. 

We had lunch with Pamela Dorr at our favorite place in Greensboro--PIE LAB. 

Dr. Willie Logan and Jennifer tour the Newbern Volunteer Fire Station with a Rural Studio student. 

Dr. Willie Logan and Jennifer tour the Newbern Volunteer Fire Station with a Rural Studio student. 

We stop by Perry Lakes Park to see the Rural Studio projects. Jennifer shows Willie Logan one of the tallest toilets in the United States. 

We stop by Perry Lakes Park to see the Rural Studio projects. Jennifer shows Willie Logan one of the tallest toilets in the United States. 

Jennifer and Christian discuss tectonics in Akron at the Boys and Girls Club. 

Jennifer and Christian discuss tectonics in Akron at the Boys and Girls Club.