2015 Harvard Graduate School of Design “J-Term” at Populous’ Boston Office

March 5, 2015

Last month, Populous’ Boston office hosted the practice’s first  January-Term (commonly referred to as the “J-Term”) student externship program with masters candidates from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s(GSD) landscape and architecture programs.

The People

GSD students Chieh-Chih Chiang, MArch ‘17 and Weimao Kong, MLA ‘15 were selected to participate.  The externship program, led by Greg Sherlock, John Shreve (GSD Alumni Council member, MAUD ‘92) and myself (MArch ’00), was designed as an intensive, 2-week charrette process that addressed “real-world client” community and infrastructure revitalization issues in Boston including the
re-examination of City Hall Plaza and the international arrivals experience at Boston-Logan International Airport.

The Approach

Populous’ J-Term offers both our office staff and externship students a unique opportunity – leveraging the office charrette environment – to temporarily suspend belief; taking our group – both students and Populous designers – to places we dare to dream and presenting us an opportunity to innovate without real-world constraints.  Vice versa, this 2-week charrette gave students an opportunity to experience our practice and thought processes to arrive at content and research quickly to ultimately distill valuable conclusions.  This iterative ‘ideation’ process taught the externs to effectively dissect problems and convert them into tangible observations and insightful client recommendations.  We took this opportunity to have one of our clients, the Massachusetts Port Authority, present our J-Termers with some challenging design issues to explore.

The Challenge and Results

Week 1 analysis of key precedents in public assembly and spectacle – ranging from Classical and Roman archetypes to more contemporary examples such as the most recent Olympiads – provided the backdrop for the students to determine design criteria for sustainable and powerful catalytic developments in the urban centers that can both reinforce civic character, activate urban vibrancy and serve as a dramatic backdrop for major experiences – like the Boston Marathon finish line – or major institutions, such as an annex for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Students presented their findings to urban design and placemaking experts, Prof. Susan Silberberg of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT and Mr. Tom Nally, AIA of A Better City.

Boston-Logan International Airport was the backdrop of the Week 2 charette.  As Logan Airport continues to experience steady increases in passenger volume and new international destinations, the desire to create a unique a distinctly “Boston” arrivals experience has been in the forefront of the terminal improvement initiative at their International Terminal.  Examining passenger survey results, user flows, wayfinding challenges, desired amenities and technology opportunities, the students developed and presented to Dr. Luciana Burdi, Deputy Director of Capital Programs and Environmental Affairs, and her staff, a range of design solutions to deliver an unique arrivals experience.

About the Harvard GSD J-Term – A few years ago, Harvard University inaugurated January Term – a chance for students to use the break between the fall and spring semesters to participate in a range of fun and enriching courses and programs both on and off campus. J-Term is an opportunity for students to learn some new skills over winter break and have fun with peers, without the pressure of formal coursework.  The GSD Alumni Council’s Student Relations Committee recently partnered with the GSD Career Services Office to launch an ambitious expansion of the GSD’s J-Term offerings by setting up off-campus externships in hopes of providing students with experiential opportunities to learn about practice, foster dialogue and build connections with alumni.


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