‘A place to gather’: Exhibit Columbus High School Design Team planning a flexible space for relaxing

The inspirational muse landed quite practically for a group of high school students designing broad, architectural whimsy recently. And, all other teen concerns aside, their creativity came down to one straightforward, declarative statement.

“We felt like we really didn’t really have a place to gather,” said Nettie Meeks.

She’s one of the key members of the Exhibit Columbus exhibition’s High School Design Team that outlined their idea at the recent design presentations at The Commons in front of about 350 people. That says plenty right there, given that the room was dotted with architects who have planned structures all over the globe.

And this group from all three local high schools spoke with equal measures of polish and humor about their 64-foot by 53-foot installation known by the Japanese word Machi, signifying a busy downtown area or street. Plus, their instructor, Darin Johnson, spoke behind the scenes to make sure people knew he has indeed been behind the scenes.

“This is their design concept,” Johnson said.

Exhibit Columbus is an exploration of community, architecture, art, and design that activates the Modernist legacy of Columbus, Indiana.

The High School Design Team includes Trinity Carter, Haniel Cruz, Anushka Damle, Mariana DeLuca, Alexander DePaul, Isabel Garduno, Owen Hebert, Brooke Leslie, Sam Loheide, Max Nash, Judah Nickoll, Bryce Olson, Ashley Perez, Gloria Phillips, Grishma Pitkar, Joycee Redman, Beatriz Santana, Trent Tyree, and Vaughan Williams. They brainstormed for two weeks in a few separate classes before landing on their final choice.

The temporary work for the overall exhibition, known as “Public By Design,” beginnng Aug. 25, will be located at the west Cummins Inc. parking garage on Washington Street.

Given the curatorial theme, Machi flips it to what the students are calling Design by Public. Constructed of 1,000 linear feet of steel tubing, Machi features a large group space defined within its overall boundaries while several small, intimate spaces are created around its perimeter.

It contains movable pieces that allow every person to customize their own gathering space. Pieces such as chairs, tables, and more can be created through visitors’ imagination. Machi also integrates a multi-level canopy that grants opportunities for art, self-expression, and shaded gathering through multi-color awnings. Students said that the goal of the space was to make a space that feels welcoming and secure for all.

“We want it to feel open and inviting for everyone,” Meeks said.

She also mentioned that the teens hope families will bring items such as yard games to the area or that groups would host movie nights in the spot.

But team member Ashley Perez highlighted at least one real challenge that the group faced.

“We’re not going to lie,” Perez said. “At first, we had some problems with the budget.”

That honesty over the team’s $10,000 limit drew praise from Richard McCoy, executive director of The Landmark Columbus Foundation that is the nonprofit umbrella agency for Exhibit Columbus. He jokingly mentioned that he wished all the exhibition designers paid such close attention to the bottom line. Then he explained why high schoolers are such a focal point of Exhibit Columbus, which already has spawned at least two college architecture majors.

“The legacy of architecture here and its impact on the community started with investments made in the schools,” McCoy said. “The commissioning of innovative, well-designed educational facilities helped create what this community is today — a forward-thinking educational system.

“So, this is our way to be inspired by the legacy of Columbus — to invest in high school students today.”

McCoy takes all that a step further and said it’s his dream someday to have a former member of an exhibition’s high school design team become Exhibit Columbus’ board chair. Already, team member Meeks is spearheading Exhibit Columbus’ Instagram account.

“I consider this a really exciting part of what Exhibit Columbus is,” McCoy said.