Visitors to Brookline's Larz Anderson Auto Museum, home to America's oldest car collection, can now learn about the history of the museum and adjoining park through a scale model made by BAC students. The model is a comprehensive and historically accurate representation of the Larz Anderson Park circa 1927, when it was the estate of Boston socialites Larz and Isabel Anderson. The model, which will now be a permanent fixture at the museum, is the result of a collaborative effort by a group of BAC students. The students, representing several different areas of design expertise, spent the semester thoroughly researching the estate, developing a narrative, and ultimately creating the model through digital fabrication techniques.
"What made this project truly unique were the different disciplines working together," explained Aidan Ackerman, one of the BAC faculty members leading the project. "Each time we met, we would have complex interdisciplinary conversations, since every student was responsible for a different aspect of the project. For example, our historic preservation student would be pulling up historic documents while our landscape architecture students would be exploring the terrain and vegetation at the time. All of this research was then tied together by our digital design and visualization students, who lead the fabrication process. We were all constantly challenged to switch up our ways of thinking."
The BAC was initially approached by friends of the museum who felt that a physical model would be an effective way for visitors to learn about the history of the museum and adjoining park. Since the end goal was to create a model for the museum, BAC faculty members Don Hunsicker, dean of the School of Design Studies; Eleni Glekas, director of Historic Preservation; and Aidan Ackerman, director of Digital Media, decided to construct a sequence of historic preservation and digital media courses that allowed students to conduct their research and build the model.
As the only historic preservation major, BAC student Anya Wilczynski helped with the historic research and analysis portion. She took advantage of many different sources to gather information, such as the Brookline Preservation Commission, which helped inform certain design elements of the model since the model timeframe was the 1920s.
"One takeaway from this project for me is the importance for majors outside of historic preservation to include an element of historic research and analysis in their work," explained Anya, who just recently graduated from the BAC's School of Design Studies in May. "Sometimes, design students focus on the present and future but forget that the past significantly informs the present conditions and future plans."
Beyond improving their research and fabrication skills, the students were able to gain valuable experience working directly with a client. Throughout every step of the project, the students collaborated with and prioritized the needs of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum.
"This project gave us a breadth of experience that only a real-life project can offer, and I think everyone gained considerable skills they could take into their current or future employment," said Daniela Coray, Master of Landscape Architecture student. "Regularly meeting with the client allowed for us all to stay on the same page and it gave the client the chance to offer crucial input. Constant and clear communication amongst the team was very important, and file management became an aspect of the project that we all took home as being paramount to its success."
The result of this close collaboration is the historically accurate and meticulously fabricated model that now sits at the museum and invites visitors to engage with their local history in a new way. The students built the model considering how a five-year-old versus a 25-year-old visitor may experience it, and it is designed to serve as an effective learning tool for visitors of all ages.
"Overall, we wanted the model to tell the story of the Gilded Age and the Andersons during its most complete state," said Eleni Glekas. "The next step is to think about what else we can do with the archival documentation we compiled and digital models we created. The possibilities to create more engaging opportunities for public interaction with the museum and the park are endless."
Although the site map for Larz Anderson Auto Museum is complete, it is just the first of many new exciting projects for BAC students.