Students rarely get a chance to preserve a part of history, but that’s exactly what students from the College of Architecture’s ARCH 310 studio are attempting to do. Studio instructor Guillermo Yángüez Bergantino has challenged his students to create design concepts for a new Frank H. Woods Telephone Museum currently located at 2047 M St, Lincoln, Nebraska.
The current real estate development plan for a new “Telegraph District” in this area foresees a combination of apartments, row houses, offices and an employment center, but not The Telephone Museum. While the latter has received offers to showcase artifacts throughout the planned district, the museum’s first choice is to maintain the collection intact.
The Woods Museum tells the story of the telephone industry and its coming-of-age, of the Lincoln community and that of the State of Nebraska at large. Their stories and histories are indelibly linked.
“The Frank H. Woods Telephone Pioneer Museum is a valuable community asset because it preserves part of Lincoln’s and southeast Nebraska’s history as it relates to the telephone industry, and is also an educational resource and tourist attraction,” said Diane Walkowiak, museum volunteer. “Its collection contains many telephone-related artifacts and photos that are unique to Lincoln and our state, which can’t be found in any other museum. If a new location isn’t found soon, we could lose the museum. It would be a shame for our city to let it slip away.”
Walkowiak has been working with the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau staff regarding alternative sites and possible solutions. Jeff Maul, executive director of the Bureau, had mentioned to Walkowiak that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Architecture could be of assistance in developing possible architectural scenarios for a new museum.
For Maul, helping out the museum made perfect sense. He considers this project a great opportunity to reimagine the museum and its possibilities.
“With July lodging tax collections hitting an all-time high, there’s never been a better time to capture the interest of new visitors to our community,” commented Maul. “This, coupled with all of Lincoln’s new destination developments and new projects like the Telegraph District, it’s the perfect opportunity to open the doors of this magnificent collection.”
Through various collaborative discussions, project stakeholders had determined the new site should be 10,000 sq. ft., much larger than the existing 4,000 sq. ft. facility. “Presently, only a fraction of the inventory is on display, the rest is in storage,” Yángüez Bergantino explains. “It needs to all be brought out and put on display to tell the complete story. Our goal as architects is to give form and space to this narrative.”
Yángüez Bergantino, Walkowiak, and Maul considered several sites for the proposals, finally settling on four: the Muny Pool Building at M and 21st St., the warehouse on 21st and Capitol Parkway, a vacant lot at M & 9th St., and the museum’s current location. At first sight, the latter may seem a less-than-propitious host for design exploration –considering the situation the museum is in, but Yángüez Bergantino wanted decision makers to reimagine various possibilities.
To spur community conversation and input, the team is exhibiting the designs at the Wells Fargo Bank lobby at 1248 O ST, Lincoln, Nebraska, between January 12-26, 2017.
“Public input is an important part of any project,” Maul said, “but when the collection draws on the rich family history of the telephone to Lincoln, it becomes even more important to gaining excitement and acknowledgement of the project.”
The partnership is creating a lot of excitement.
“This is a great opportunity for my students to test their skills and knowledge with real-world implications and a real client,” Yángüez Bergantino said.
His students were equally intrigued by this opportunity and are excited to show the community their designs.
“Our client has encouraged us to think in terms of helping the community envision what the museum could be. Our designs are diverse and will hopefully continue to bring excitement to the idea of a new museum. The history of Nebraska in this museum is invaluable, and to think I could have a part in preserving an important part of Lincoln's museums is really exciting. I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to impact my community in a positive way through Architecture,” commented Rachel McCown, UNL architecture student.
“We are very appreciative that the College of Architecture is working with us,” Walkowiak added, “and thankful that Professor Yángüez Bergantino and his ARCH 310 class took this on as their major project this semester.”
The College of Architecture regularly participates in service learning projects in the Lincoln community and elsewhere.