OGDEN -- About four dozen Weber State University design students made their way to the assigned meeting place last week, knowing they had a mere 48 hours between hearing their assignment and turning in projects with art boards and videos, based on ideas they hoped would crystallize in the hours in between.
It's called a charette, an intense, limited-time effort to find solutions to a problem, usually one of an architectural nature.
Students arrived at the historic Ben Lomond Suites, in downtown Ogden, and learned their assignment was to plan a redesign of the lobby and restaurant. Each small team would need to come up with a plan that would respect the space's original Italian Renaissance Revival style while addressing modern needs, such as wheelchair accessibility.
"The charette is a real-life simulation, very much like the experiences they'll have in the field," said Kristen Arnold, WSU interior design technology program coordinator. "Working with other disciplines under a time crunch is a challenge. The charette prepares them in a way that a classroom exercise could not."
Students organized into groups of four or five, each group including majors from both interior design and design engineering technology disciplines.
Aaron Stampick studies design engineering technology.
"Interior design is how it should appear, the visual aesthetic, and design engineering technology is more the 'how' kind of person," said Stampick, 25, of Ogden. "The interior designer might ask the design engineering technology person if we can tear down this wall, and we might say, 'No, that's a structural wall, but here are other options,' like putting in support beams or windows."
After getting their assignment, the charette participants toured the Ben Lomond, taking notes on key details. The hotel interior has undergone many redesigns since it was built in 1891 as the Reed Hotel, and remodeled and expanded upward in 1927, when it became the Bigelow Hotel. In 1933, new owner Marriner S. Eccles renamed it the Ben Lomond.
"What I saw walking through was years and years of changes to try and stay up to date, and so many of the changes were not good. The original design was so intricate, to cover it was to lose all the work and effort put into it. With Italian Renaissance, art is everywhere," Stampick said.
Michael Fenton, Ben Lomond Suites marketing and sales director, said the current owners already have spent millions on updating the hotel's functionality.
"They have done so much in fixing the hotel, making sure the structure was sound and the plumbing and elevators were working," Fenton said. "One thing we wanted to work on was improving accessibility. Old hotels are full of stairs."
Fenton said the hotel has made arrangements for handicap accessibility, but there is room for improvement.
Kyra Bell, 22, of Ogden, an interior design student, also took part in last year's charette.
"Last year I think we got three hours of sleep both nights," Bell said. "That year, the assignment was a home for earthquake survivors in Haiti. It had to be a certain size and made from materials at hand. We had to do research to find out what materials they had available."
Updates are easier than from-scratch designs, Bell said.
"When we got our team, we went over our strengths and weaknesses to get an overview of the skills we had, so we would know how to divide up the work," she said. "I was nervous, but we had a good team."
Bell and Stampick's group included students Daisy Posadas, Hassan Al Quraish and Shauna Coy. They researched the kinds of finishes used in Italian Renaissance Revival, and devised a plan to restore marble flooring, strip the walls to the original stone facade, bring in walnut wainscoting and ceiling beams and add wood veneer to hide heating and cooling ducts. The group suggested adding a fireplace and staircase, and changing the level of the restaurant floor, among other modifications. The group also suggested moving the location of the front door, to create a grander entrance and improve accessibility.
Judges met Saturday afternoon to review art boards and videos each group turned in. The three highest-scoring groups were separated by about a quarter of a point. Bell and Stampick's group took top honors, and each member was gifted with a night's hotel stay and breakfast for two.
"All the groups did a great job," Stampick said. "My teammates were great to work with. I think I made some new friends. The project was extremely challenging, but I actually think I work best under pressure."
Fenton joked that he wished a budget had been part of the charette equation, as moving walls and doors can be pretty pricey. He also said he was pleased with the creativity and quality of the suggestions.
"We definitely thought the presentations were fantastic," Fenton said. "There are elements from several proposals we would like to present to the owners for consideration. After three years here, I hadn't contemplated some of those things. They were able to do it in two days.
"Considering they were only working on it for 48 hours, they did some amazing stuff."