Every Sunday, members of the 5C club Designing Urban Spaces (DUS) head to Pomona College's Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity, also known as the Hive, for their weekly meeting. Amidst minimalist orange and yellow furniture and bright white walls, students from across the colleges come together to discuss their shared interest in building and landscape architecture and urban design and planning.
DUS was founded informally in the spring of 2015 by Dominique Chua SC ’17 in response to the lack of academic offerings centered around urban studies.
“I just had this growing interest and I didn’t really know any other people who were interested. I didn’t know which professors to talk to, or what resources were available at the 5Cs,” Chua said.
One of Chua’s long-term goals for the club is to develop an urban studies department at the colleges. In the meantime, the club offers a space for interested students to learn from one another and from 5C faculty. While Claremont’s resources may fall short, DUS organizes field trips to the surrounding area. These trips range from tours of Los Angeles design studios and city planning agencies to grad school visits at nearby universities.
Char Miller, director of environment analysis program at Pomona College, describes his relationship with the club as “friend, adviser, mentor, guide, nag as I need to be, but mostly a supportive voice.” Miller praised the student-driven nature of the club and its influence on his department. As a response to student demand, the Claremont Colleges environmental analysis department has created a track called “Sustainability in the Built Environment,” and Pomona is currently in the process of hiring an urban geographer.
By combining the liberal arts education offered at the Claremont Colleges with the additional resources offered by DUS, students with an interest in urban design and policy are truly able to get the best of both worlds.
“One of the things about the liberal arts is that it trains you broadly and across disciplines and I think that’s a huge advantage when you go out into the world professionally. That sort of broad arena matters a lot, but what these students are doing is also arguing that they need depth,” Miller said.
Currently, DUS is partnering with the Hive to re-imagine a neglected space on campus. This past Sunday, the club held an initial brainstorming session for transforming an underused part of campus for a one-day interactive installation. The project is designed to get students to rethink the possibilities of underused spaces. In the hour-long session at the Hive, students broke out into small groups and filled up posters with drawings, ideas, and colorful sticky notes to kick off planning for the event.
“I wish we had partnered sooner [with the Hive],” Chua said. “Designing and shaping cities is an inherently iterative process. We also see participatory design techniques, prototyping, and a cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas as basic requisites in urban design. The Hive nurtures this entire process from start to finish, so it is a natural home base for our club.”
When asked about his hopes for the club moving forward, Miller said, “I want it to take over the world. It’s a beacon. This is what’s possible; this is an emblem of the kinds of work students can do across disciplines. And it’s self-organized. To my mind this is an exemplar of the liberal arts in action.”