Exchange Policies

January 1, 1997

Will Coviello

"Trading Places" is an apt title for a collaborative design studio course taught by Steve Jacobs, professor of architecture. The course brings students from Tulane and a Mexican univer- sity to each other's cities to both visit and redesign public marketplaces.

In November, Mexican architectural students from the Facultad de Arquitectura of the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (FUAUDY) visited Tulane to work with Jacobs' students on a project focusing on the Green Market, a public market located in the Warehouse District. They stayed with the same students from Jacobs's course who only two months before had visited them in the Yucatan to work on a similar project involving a traditional marketplace.

By looking at traditional marketplaces, Jacobs says he challenged his students to examine how the human element is explored in commerce. He asked them, "How can a supermarket attain the pleasurable qualities that one finds in traditional marketplaces, where there is some sense of communication between the vendor and the purchaser?"

The New Orleans' Green Market, located in a parking lot at the corner of Girod and Magazine streets, operates like a loosely structured traditional produce market. In the manner of the old French Market, Jacobs says individual farmers and local producers sell fruits, vegetables, herbs, some baked goods and preserves over collapsible tables and booths each Saturday. The students contemplated the future of the Green Market by sketching plans to expand the market by closing off Girod Street.

They also investigated permanent or collapsible structures to cover the vendors and make the space more appealing, yet allowing for its usual function as a parking lot. Green Market organizers attended an exposition of the students' drawings at the School of Architecture and participated in discussing with faculty and students from both universities. Proposals for improving the market balanced vendors' practical need to set up quickly for the once-a-week, four-hour selling time with efforts to make the market aesthetically inviting.

Despite the bucolic imagery of a surrounding mural, the market sits on a busy street at the foot of four- and five-story buildings. Many of the students' suggestions involved umbrella-like steel structures to cover individual or small clusters of vendors and others sought to cover the entire lot with transparent overhangs, to keep the market bright and open. Many drawings reorganized the location of vendors to change the flow of customers around the market stalls.

The project in the Yucatan was less logistical in nature and focused on a kind of cultural flow. Izamal is a small city whose population vastly increases during market hours. The market itself brings together Spanish-speaking people from the city and Mayan people living in surrounding areas, Jacobs says. The structures around the market plaza include Spanish colonial and Mayan architecture.

The plaza incorporates a Spanish monastery built on the base of a Mayan pyramid, an old kiln used in making mortar, a 19th-century factory and other sites of archeological interest. After touring the market and city, including a midnight visit to the pyramid with the mayor during a town celebration, the students from each school paired together. They then set out to redesign the market to enhance its features as both the daily center of commerce and as a developing tourist attraction.

Staying in each others' homes added an important cultural intimacy to both design projects. Randy Hutchison, a student in the course, agrees that intensive contact with a native student in the same field changes how one understands another culture and its architecture. "You are forced to speak a lot more in the native language," says Hutchison. "You get real one-on-one contact and see how they think and how they move through the city."

Exposing students to international collaboration is becoming increasingly important in architecture, says Jacobs. "My students' careers will extend deep into the 21st century and they will find themselves proposing buildings and projects for other sites and environments," he says. "They will likely involve themselves with architects from abroad who will be working here. The ability to appreciate and interact with people with different cultural traditions and different kinds of professional education will become more and more critical."

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