Architecture & Design, Higher Education, and Lakeshore

Detroit students explore Muskegon

Architecture students from University of Detroit Mercy design downtown Muskegon buildings for capstone studio class.

January 5, 2018
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Students from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture studied Muskegon this past semester and proposed their ideas for a downtown building to some city leaders.

The third- and fourth-year students were part of a studio capstone class in which they were charged with designing a mixed-use building on the temporary chalet site of the Western Market property for sale on the south side of W. Western Avenue between Second and First streets.

Many of the students — some from Poland, Canada and Detroit — had never been to Muskegon before the class visited in September.

They designed the buildings to envision an improvement of their agreed upon lack of density in Muskegon’s downtown. Many of the students believed Muskegon’s biggest asset is the lakeshore, and they made an effort to showcase that in the building designs.

Nathan Khalsa, a third-year student from metro Detroit, said he had never been to Muskegon before the class. He said he remembers being surprised at the downtown, thinking there was a lot of “blank, empty space,” but he thought the lakeshore “totally contrasted” with the urban area.

“That was really beautiful,” he said. “That alone kind of speaks for itself — the nature of Muskegon. That alone would be a reason to go to Muskegon.”

Khalsa’s design included two different buildings on the site, one for an anchor retail space and one with a restaurant anchor, with residences above. To incorporate his idea of bringing nature into the city, he proposed having a green space courtyard in between the two buildings, with side doors that open toward it and residency balconies overlooking it.

Logan Flowers, a Muskegon County native, created Water Shell, a mixed-use 40,000-square-foot building featuring an outdoor recreation retailer on the lower level and three stories of residential units above. His idea was to set the building back from the street and have a courtyard in front, which he said does not necessarily align with Muskegon’s “strict codes.”

Staci Seyferth-Taylor, who instructed the course, said she went over Muskegon codes with students but let them intentionally disregard them and “make mistakes” for the sake of learning and creativity. So while the designs may not always be practical, she hopes they may inspire ideas down the line.

Dave Alexander, executive director of the economic development agency Downtown Muskegon Now, was at the presentation and gave feedback on the designs.

“I was thrilled to have young people … come show some attention to Muskegon,” he said. “It provided us a millennial outsider perspective that was very good for the two dozen or so folks that were around the table.”

The students spent one-third of the semester studying Muskegon’s history, understanding the geography, nature and the people.

“We came up with a realization that Muskegon has been through various sorts of personalities,” Seyferth-Taylor said, referring to Muskegon’s history of fur trading and logging. “It was a place where people came together just because of where the geography lies.”

She added Muskegon is in a time of “reinventing itself.” There are 10 construction projects underway in downtown alone, Alexander said.

Whatever happens, Seyferth-Taylor said Muskegon leaders need to respect the landscape more than past generations of Muskegon have.

“What we do should be done in a sustainable way and in a way that celebrates nature,” she said.

Seyferth-Taylor thought Muskegon would be a good choice for the students to practice their skills because she said the changes the city has gone through are not so different from what Detroit has experienced.

“I thought it would be a relatively small leap,” she said.

Seyferth-Taylor said she was an architectural intern during the time the mall in downtown Muskegon was being demolished in 2003.

“I was learning to build as the whole center of the town I grew up in was being torn down.”

She wanted to envision a new “lively and beautiful” place with her students and be part of remaking downtown.

If others are interested in working with students on a similar project and are open to dealing with classroom requirements, Seyferth-Taylor said she is open to hearing ideas.

The students’ work is on display at L.C. Walker Arena, 470 W. Western Ave., Muskegon, in the arena concourse. The designs are on the construction boards of Rad Dads’ Taco and Tequila Bar now being built on the southeast corner of the arena at W. Western Avenue and Fourth Street.

Alexander encourages community members to stop by.

“I think it’s very good for our community to take a look at what these aspiring architects have to say,” he said.

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