By Miranda Song
For the diamond back
Students from various majors worked to improve six outdoor spaces near the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation building in the University of Maryland’s first 24-hour PLACEHack hackathon.
The event took place on April 1st and included $1,000 in prizes for teams constructing location-based solutions around College Park. These projects were judged on their accessibility to people of all ages and needs.
“Students and faculty have been away for 18 months because of COVID-19, and I started thinking about the things we could do to help create the life that we’ve been missing on campus,” said Dawn Jourdan , the Dean of Architecture, Planning and Conservation School. “The hackathon seemed like a great idea to bring together students and faculty from across campus.”
The judges presented contestants with six places to improve – Stamp Student Union, ArtWalk, the boardwalk between Route 1 and Ritchie Coliseum, the plaza in front of College Park City Hall, the public health school overhang and the exterior of the Parren J .Mitchell Art Sociology Building.
The Stamp Challenge tasked participants with reinventing the southwest corner of the intersection of Campus Drive and Union Lane in front of Stamp, with the goal of renovating the indoor and outdoor spaces to create improved physical access points that invite community members.
The team that won the award for Best Stamp Reactivation Plan included students Mahta Gooya, Natalie Leveque, Lucy Wess and Leah Paliakas. The students, whose majors ranged from computer engineering to English, created a project called “Guiding Us Home.” The goal of the group was to welcome, guide, and engage visitors who would be arriving at the university from the upcoming Metro Purple Line stop.
“We wanted to welcome people to the University of Maryland,” said Paliakas, a sophomore in public policy and communications. “We wanted to point them to resource areas because there are so many amazing resources that a lot of people don’t know about… We also wanted people to get involved in the activities that were on offer [around campus].”
The group created a scheme that included a fountain inviting visitors from the Purple Line stop and Terrapin “footprints” painted on the concrete sidewalk to direct visitors to Stamp’s entrances.
“We re-invite each student or guest, local or international, and give them familiar Maryland iconography, such as colors, native plants and blue mosaics, to pay homage to the watershed that leads us to Stamp,” said the winning team said during his final presentation.
The hackathon not only gave students the opportunity to brainstorm creative ideas for unused spaces around campus, but also provided an opportunity to bring together students from different majors. In fact, every college on campus was represented by the hackathon participants.
“Students are naturally creative,” said Jourdan. “A group of people might be able to do enough research to find out who the users are [of a space] are, but people coming from all over have a much better chance of understanding, not only people visiting these spaces, but also people providing, sharing and communicating what they have.”
Sophomore computer science majors Nathan Bezualem and Navid Misaghian won the Most Comprehensive Design award for their project, The Dog House.
“We were given the task of remodeling the ArtWalk gallery space just off campus,” said Misaghian. “[Dogs] Tear things up – they make a mess. Nobody cares about her [at home].”
To remedy this, Bezualem and Misaghian came up with the idea of creating a dog park right on campus to create more workspace for students and make the outdoor area more attractive to passers-by and employees working nearby.
“There are a lot of communities that have a bunch of dogs that would benefit,” Misaghian said. “It’s not something that requires a lot of infrastructure … You can go into an area with a lot of space and move things very quickly.”