17th Annual Design Charrette
01-05 April 2002

Colman School in Seattle's historically black neighborhood had been vacant for twenty-five years after an eight-year occupation by community activists. The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle had purchased the building and planned to redevelop it as housing, offices, and a heritage museum.

To complement the League's redevelopment plan, CEEDS held a charrette with graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and design professionals. They were tasked with developing strategies to connect the building to its surrounding context, while extending museum activities out into the neighborhood to form a kind of “living museum.”

Before the charrette, students and faculty worked with fifth graders at Madrona Elementary School to get their perceptions of the neighborhood. The children drew cognitive maps, wrote essays, and then sketched ideas for an African American living museum, which they presented at the charrette.

The university students also interviewed residents and agency representatives, who frequently mentioned how much they valued the area's character.  One interviewee said it was “one of the most beautiful spots in Seattle” with open space, good people and organizations, and a history that is central to African Americans. The students presented the interviews at the charrette, along with their inventory and photographic documentation of neighborhood resources.

This week-long charrette resulted in numerous "quick fixes" and long-range ideas for preserving the Colman School’s iconic image, while creating new elements to reweave it into the neighborhood fabric. Proposals called for creating an outdoor farmers market, and for distributing gathering places, gateways, signage, public art, and other street furnishings throughout the neighborhood to form a display of its cultural history.

This charrette was funded by the University of Washington.  Graduate research assistants for this project included Jim Borgford-Parnell (education) and Linda Ishem (social work).