Tools for Albina
ReBuilding Cornerstones
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This project is for Noni Causey, a respected community leader and Executive Director at the Black Educational Achievement Movement (BEAM Village). As part of BEAM she wants to turn her existing home in Albina into BSTRONG, a community-centered learning hub.
This project is for Black youth who are our next leaders and free thinkers. Who are reimagining better education systems. Where they will develop applicable skills and become cornerstones of our communities.
Churches, lodges, and porches became spaces for progress where local Civil Rights activists gathered and propelled the movement forward.
While racist practices such as redlining and urban renewal have sought to erase these spaces. While public schools funded by property taxes created opportunity gaps between rich and poor neighborhoods.
Despite nonwhite school districts receiving $23 billion dollars less than white districts.
Black communities have constantly innovated and created their own education programs. Like the students at Tuskegee University, who constructed their own school buildings, we need to think locally from the bottom up.
Noni is creating this reality with BSTRONG which stands for Black Scholars Together Reclaiming Our Natural Greatness. A community based learning hub where Black youth of all ages connect with older generations and professionals to learn a wide variety of life skills.
I am proposing a kit of architectural tools that can grow and change with the Black community and BEAM Village. I am also proposing a kit of design tools to connect people with the process of design.
Observe and listen, analyze and design and importantly publish and share what is happening.
Listening through conversations, interactive polls, and activities, we can discover what information will inform design.
This process must be transparent to foster trust and ownership over the project. How the data will be used, giving live feedback, and project updates and descriptions.
Finding common values, activities and assets, is key and could be done through innovative and fun tools.
This can create a design feedback loop, where the community informs designers who create tools. Designers incorporate environmental factors and design systems that combined with community input can become architecture.
Here we are looking at Albina, down North Williams Ave. the once vibrant heart of Portland's Black community. We can see the three sites this studio is working on. Proximity to the river along with the Albina Vision Trust have great potential in reBuilding the neighborhood as a Chocolate city, one of many Black cultural hubs across the US.
Let's zoom into the BSTRONG Learning Hub, Noni's property. You can see the recent apartments and condos encroaching on the neighborhood.
Here you can see the existing house and the wall Noni uses to spark conversations from the heart. The site is divided into a grid of 8'x16' cells supporting porch modules that can adapt to different uses.
Facing South and providing a gradient from outside to inside, we can see the low winter sun gets deep into the space, and the high summer sun gets shaded.
Shade during the summer reduces heat absorbed by the walls of the house, and sheltering from wind and rain during the winter keeps the house warm. The space can be opened to create cross-ventilation, reducing the need for air conditioning.
This modular porch system supports a gradient from inside to outside. Spaces can be fully open to the elements, covered with translucent fabric, sheltered by screens, or fully enclosed and conditioned. They can also connect to Noni's current house, to be an extended threshold.
Porches represent historic communal spaces in Black communities, they also have a lightness and openness that increases connections to the street and the outdoors.
Using off-the-shelf materials and standard construction methods, these spaces can follow the rhythm of the environment and the rhythm of the community.
There are a variety of collaborative design tools the community, students, and designers can use together to design what happens next in this building.
Each year students could prototype and model spaces, that will help inform what the building needs. Students can build pavilions using tools like Makerpipe's conduit connectors. Pop-up shops, information kiosks, skateboard ramps, this is an accessible way to test full-scale ideas, before they become built into the architecture.
This project will be developed in phases with the students of BSTRONG to be able to grow with the community and funding, creating momentum over time.
Phase one, Increasing the sustainability of the existing property and expanding community engagement. It will cost around $12,500, for a collaborative mural, new landscaping, a new sidewalk, and upgrading the existing heating system in the house.
Phase two, a separate structure using the modular porch system, replaces an existing shed as a makerspace/studio. Reusing the purple siding for an efficient wall system, and getting wood beams, columns, and connections donated. This phase would cost around $148,000.
Phase three, new improvements to the landscape, an array of solar panels paid for by the Portland Clean Energy Fund and will provide enough energy to make the hub NetZero in energy use. A covered public forum, funded by community place-making grants, will extend the communication wall’s impact to the street, inviting people in to have conversations from the heart.

Six more porch modules connect to the house, creating more making and gathering space, creating a smoother transition from outside to inside. This phase would cost about $370,000. Labor costs and soft costs can be donated as in-kind services and job training.

Here the hub can be registered as an alternative school through the Oregon Department of Education and receive public funding.

Future phases are also possible using the same modular timber system. Where learning hubs could be scaled up to combat the increasing number of multistory condos in the neighborhood. Here is a vision of a three-story/ Black education center on the site.
This strategy doesn't stop at Noni's property either, these adaptable porch structures can be built on other sites creating a decentralized network of learning hubs. Property owners can trade these structures for the commitment of hosting classes and events, teaching their own specialized skills to their own community.
With these tools, the wisdom of community elders, the expertise of professionals, the imagination of children, and funding, we can build local spaces for education to happen. To permanently change how we all learn. To reconnect with one another.
What do you think the future of education can be?
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Created by Garrett Leaver

In collaboration with :
ReBuilding Cornerstones
Noni Causey
BSTRONG Students
University of Oregon College of Design

With mentorship from :
Craig Wilkins
Kayin Talton Davis
Cleo Davis