"What do you think could be done here to improve being on public transit?"
And so it went, from the mouth of David Brewer, an architect at Glover Smith Bode Inc. His reason for giving the third degree? Research.
Brewer served as captain of a team participating in a competition sponsored by the Central Oklahoma chapter of the American Institute of Architects: to design a unique bus stop for use in Oklahoma City. More than 80 entries were received from eight countries, according to Kenneth Dennis, chapter president; the jury chose Brewer's team's sustainable submission.
"When we went to the banquet and I saw the other structures, I actually thought ours was in the top three," Brewer said. "But winning was a nice surprise."
Half a decade later, grant money and fundraising will turn the design into reality. Dennis, an architect at TAParchitecture, said the bus stop will be constructed at the corner of Lahoma Avenue and Main Street in Norman, starting in January, at a cost of $20,000.
"Some people think that's crazy, but realistically, it's not," Dennis said. "Most of the shelters you see around town cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000."
He said the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture will be building the stop as a learning tool. But why, if the contest was for Oklahoma City, will the stop be built in Norman?
"We could not get Metro Transit on board with locating the bus stop somewhere in downtown OKC, which was perplexing to us," Dennis said.
Brewer's team proposed the stop be placed in front of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
"We wanted a really artistic, elegant type of structure, where even if you were driving by and didn't know it was a bus stop, it would still artistically inspire you," Brewer said. "One of the criteria was to make something that was different and eye-catching."
FORM AND FUNCTION
In fact, the intent of the competition was twofold, encompassing both form and function.
Said Dennis, "We like to promote that good design makes a difference in everyday life. If you look around the metro area, the majority of the bus stop locations don't even have shelters. They're just a bench. A lot of them are not in very good condition. Even something as simple as a bus stop really can make a difference, if it's well-designed."
Brewer said his team's plan was to make "public transit seem more inviting "¦ more user-friendly," and not just for those who already use it. They wanted to appeal to the businessperson who otherwise might not consider the bus as an alternate form of transportation.
Melissa Hunt, executive director of the local AIA chapter, said that despite the project's dual nature, receiving financial support has been a struggle. One exception has been outdoor advertising agency Tyler Media, whose contribution she deemed "huge."
"I have discovered that if you do not use public transportation, you do not care about public transportation," Hunt said. "This is a sad fact, considering many of our citizens rely on it. "¦ So we feel that better-designed stops will not only help serve to improve the appearance, it will also help protect the citizens from the harsh elements of our seasons."
Dennis agreed, noting that the winning design is a prototype ripe for mass production nationwide, in addition to being "a piece of public art." He said that with current talks surrounding MAPS 3 and other improvement projects, perhaps the timing is right for a wider rollout.
"As a community, looking at transportation for the future is something we really need to look at," he said, "and not just downtown." —Rod Lott