U-LEAF Unfolding Mobile Stage

This post should be titled:

3 Reasons You Should Hire a U-LEAF Crew Member on the Spot

As far as enriching, hands-on, fun-filled, summer adventures go, this one was probably the best. After my third year teaching the AVL DesignBuild Studio with Luke W. Perry and the Asheville Design Center, the 2015 unfolding LEAF community arts stage was by far the most challenging and rewarding design/build studio we’ve ever had. According to our 13 architecture, landscape architecture, sustainable building technologies, management, urban planning, and mechatronics engineering students, the AVL DesignBuild Studio delivered one of the best learning experiences for community-driven design.

In summary, as developed by the students, the U-LEAF’s tagline is: Participation, Performance, and Playfulness. The U-LEAF:

  • creates an unfolding stage that can go anywhere
  • is safe, functional, and engaging
  • is adaptable
  • can be set up by two trained volunteers in 90 minutes
  • meets DOT/trailer size and weight restrictions

After one final week of punch list (and then another week of punch list, thank you local students, instructor Luke Perry, ADC interns, and ADC/MHO Rose Fellow Geoffrey Barton for putting on the final touches), the U-LEAF was towed away by Leigh Maher, of LEAF Community Arts as of yesterday.

The U-LEAF received it’s final coats of paint, aluminum siding, decal installed and donated by HENCO Reprographics, power winch, nesting boxes, and supporting scissor jacks all prior to the final ADC Donor-Appreciation event held at the Boathouse in River Arts District last week. The event was even covered by Mountain Xpress, see article titled “AVL Design Center’s DesignBuild Studio Rolls Out the U-LEAF Stage.”

In reflection of the wonderful experience that we all shared this summer, juggling part-time jobs, work/life balance, enjoying the WNC mountains and rivers, eating together, designing, problem-solving, and building together, I thought I’d wrap up this year’s AVL DesignBuild project with 3 Reasons You Should Hire a U-LEAF Crew Member on the Spot, to highlight the excellent team of students we had this summer! Here we go:

  1. Flexibility. Students are forced to stay on their toes whether it’s logistics (when/where are we meeting for the day), design challenges (physics!), time constraints (metal shop isn’t available today…), or resolving and incorporating client feedback (we want to cover the whole stage, now). The U-LEAF Crew was faced with many challenges, and navigating community outreach, incorporating feedback into the design, designing as a consensus, and building something that would work for LEAF, taught our crew adaptability, problem-solving, and resilience. The U-LEAF Crew is on the fly, and willing to do whatever it takes to make things happen!
  2. Attitude. Everybody loves service with a smile. By balancing weekend activities like trips to the lake, rivers, and A-B Tech Welding Club BBQ fundraisers, the pressure to finish on time and under budget never broke the positive attitude, and go-getter spirit of the U-LEAF crew. In order for everyone to work well together, we had to make sure we were able to balance fun and productivity. Using the “Yes, And…” mentality taught students to open their minds and build off each other, and this attitude produced a better product for our client in the meantime. You can teach technical skills in job training to anyone who has a good attitude.
  3. Teamwork. Soft skills like being a team-player are highly desirable in collaborative fields such as architecture, engineering, construction management, and project management. After taking a day to flush out the pros and cons of working in groups, the team used consensus-based design as a means for moving forward in all aspects of the U-LEAF design. Veronique Rodriguez, architecture major at Virginia Tech agrees: “I really like how we switched up the groups whenever people start to get stuck on a design idea or construction detail, so everyone works on each other’s ideas.” I think we can all agree that the U-LEAF is much better off having the input of many minds and hands than if an individual member of the group designed the whole thing, and then forced everyone else to build it. Unlike most architecture studios, design/build requires students to be accountable for what they design and draw, and integrating the design and construction in a team format is the only way to make a complex project like the  U-LEAF come to life.

There you have it, folks. Plain and simple. What do you need to make a mobile stage that is welded to an 8000-pound capacity trailer, with 900+ pound “wings” that unfold to a 17-foot by 18-foot sturdy, flat, and level perfoming surface? Oh yeah, and you only have $8500 budget for materials, limited skill sets, and 10 weeks to do it? You need a crew that is flexible, with a “yes, and” attitude that works well together as a team. Otherwise, you’d better save up $50k-$150k for one of these. Thank you to everyone who pitched in, you know who you are, and your name will be forever engraved on the edge of the stage… (Hire these guys, and you won’t be sorry:)

  • Allison Chan, Clemson University
  • Ashley Davis, Clemson University
  • Chad Ekre, UNC Asheville/NC State
  • Christina Booher, UNC Charlotte
  • David Koontz, NC State
  • Calum Dodson, UNC Charlotte
  • Ed Dale, A-B Tech
  • Caitlin Fogarty, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Julia Chapman, Clemson University
  • Lizete Rea, Clemson University
  • Melody Bazzle, Clemson University
  • Steph McConnell, Clemson University
  • Veronique Rodriguez, Virginia Tech
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ULEAF All Grown Up!

Week 9 of ULEAF design-build was full of ups and downs, excitement, and exhaustion. It was the week that the entirety of the ULEAF design came to life, which was extremely rewarding for all of the students. The main goal established in the beginning of the summer was to build a stage that was both functional and beautiful. Week 9 was crunch time for making this goal a reality.

The trailer left for one more trip to Hoss Haley’s welding shop on Monday morning to attach the steel canopy structure to the trailer. Thanks again to Hoss and his team of welders for making the completion of the ULEAF possible! So, with the steel canopy up and only days until the unveiling it was time for the DBS team to start the major carpentry phase.

DesignBuild students divided into two teams, working in shifts, in order to maximize the time we had left and safety around the stage while under construction. One team focused on putting up the wooden canopy arches and Suntuf roof cover and while the other team worked on installing the floor joists and plywood to create the stage floor structure. With such a big team of students this year, team leader’s decision for the teams to work in shifts throughout the week kept everyone safe and well-rested…relatively well-rested, anyway.


By the end of the day Monday, the team was ahead of schedule with the trailer floor joists in tact and two wooden canopy arches up. On Tuesday, the canopy structure really came to life as the roof team worked from sun up until sun down. All the arches were in place and the purlins got installed right before it got dark. With the roof almost complete, the floor team had more space and time on Wednesday to really focus their efforts on getting all the wing joists installed and the plywood for the center of the stage in place.

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Thursday and Friday saw the stage coming to life before our eyes.  The excitement steadily built as the DBS team shifted into detail and completion mode upon completing the ‘big’ construction and assembly tasks.  Details included installing aluminum trim, CNC’d rim boards with student’s and sponsor’s names, re-attaching brake lights, painting touch-up, etc. On Friday afternoon, Leigh and LEAF staffers came to pick up the stage and deliver it to downtown Asheville for Saturday’s inaugural LEAF Downtown AVL.

Finally, Saturday arrived and everyone on the team was very excited about seeing the stage in action and hearing the public’s response.  Members of the team arrived early on site to deploy the stage for the first time and then we anxiously awaited the ribbon cutting ceremony.   At 11:45am Ehren, from LEAF Shools and Streets, introduced us and Miriam briefly spoke about the project. We all joined in to cut the ribbon and the first band began to play.  The rest, as they say, is history…

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On behalf of Caitlin, Chad, and the whole DBS team, we wish to thank all of the individuals and businesses that have supported us throughout.  This has been an amazing summer and we’re extremely proud to have had the opportunity to play a part.

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Getting ready for LEAF Downtown: Pt II

The last steps to getting the ULEAF ready for LEAF Downtown?

First, another coat of green paint on the most visible steel pieces.
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The remaining sides are mounted.



Calum sprays the metal parts with Rust-Oleum to protect them from the elements.IMG_6846

Miriam and Stephanie inspect the metal hinge for any protruding screws, then go back and polish it clean.


The folding elements of the stage have a rough edge. Eventually, a fiberglass seal should take care of this issue, but for now, Christina sands the edges so that none of the dancers get splinters.

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Instructor Miriam Gee sweeps under the stage with a giant magnet to collect all the lost screws and metal dust created from drilling. There’s quite a bit!
IMG_6905Calum and Melody work together to align the metal trim.


Chad fixes a spelling error made during the C&C process.

IMG_6932Lizete sands the edges of the stage smooth. The names were cut into these boards at Clemson University under the guidance of Doug Hecker.You can read the Clemson press release about it here.

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Last Day Before the Debut!

On Friday, the students are working with a tight 4:00 deadline. The ULEAF stage needs to be ready for its first public appearance at the first annual LEAF Downtown festival this weekend. We’ll be unveiling the stage at 11:30am on Saturday morning.

Today’s most critical task is the lay down the flooring. First, the floorboards are affixed to the stage using liquid nail. Next, the students work in teams pre-drilling (making a small hole for the drill) and drilling (inserting the screw) the floorboards in place.


Allison gets ready to lay down some liquid nails for the flooring.


The team warns Ed he’s about to liquid nail his pants to the stage.


Teamwork makes the dream work! Julia and Allison drill the floorboards in place.

Some of the other more pressing tasks involve reinforcing the canopy structure. After all, the stage is about to weather a weekend of breakdancing kids, drummers, and the Studio Zahiya dance troupe. Calum grinds down some gusset plates that will be reinforce the arch.


Calum grinds the gusset plate smooth


The gusset plate will reinforce the joint between these three wood pieces of the arch


Calum mounts the finished gusset plate

The team takes a short break at lunch. Some generous fellows brought by pizza from Earth Fare and Asheville Pizza and Brewing. Yum! Miriam also brought a pot of dirty rice.


Instructor Luke Perry supervises


Instructor Miriam Gee and Veronique drill the floorboards to the wings.

Another important task is laying down the siding of the stage. The wing siding features lumber engraved with the names of the students, donors, volunteers, and partners who made the ULEAF possible. Some of the siding is temporary siding, because the team didn’t have enough pressure-treated wood; it will be replaced next week.


Melody (left) and Lizete (right) measure the length of the wing siding to be trimmed.


Testing the wing siding placement

After the sidings are mounted, Lizete sands down the names. A spelling error with one of the students’ names has to be fixed – try to spot it on Saturday!

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Veronique drills through the floorboards of the stage wings.

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Veronique trims the edge of this board so that the metal braces will run flush.

Another coat of paint is added to the metal components of the structure. All of the assembly work has added a few nicks in the paint; now is the time to correct them and even out the color.


Allison adds another coat of the green paint

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Veronique adds a final coat of black paint

Next week, a fiberglass seal will coat the floor. This will help protect the stage from wear and tear and prevent splinters.


Chad works below the stage

One of the final tasks before the ULEAF gets picked up is to add metal trim to the edges of the stage.


Calum and Melody get ready to drill the metal trim into place.

The canopy is functional, but next week a few more screws will be added to hold it in place. This will keep the roof from flapping in high winds or driving down the highway.


Canopy and blue sky!


Evolution of the canopy design


Week 8

With only 2 weeks left until our August 1st unveiling at the downtown LEAF festival, it’s crunch time.  On Monday morning we had an extensive list to tackle. The priority was to complete the dual wing assemblies and welding so that we could test them on the wing as well as completing the wood canopy structure. Susan Russell oversaw our welding techniques. Ed Dale completed most of the trailer welds, having had prior welding experience. David and Calum learned how to weld over the course of the past two weeks and were able to complete the wings with Susan’s assistance, as well as an awesome team of grinders. David also got the trailer jacks attached.

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The wings wait to be primed

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Springs for the wings!

On Wednesday we took the trailer down to Hoss Haley’s. He was able to help us with remaining welds and used his fork-lift to help us get the wings on the trailer with the springs in place. Got torsion springs and dowel on/wings attached- highlight! Back at AB Tech we painted, stained and treated all the wood and were able to assemble the canopy pieces. By Friday all the metal on the trailer was completed.


Assembled canopy pieces

Saturday we made adjustments on our canopy pieces, and primed the trailer for paint. Sunday a small group came in to paint the trailer and wings. We ended the week with an awesome adventure at Lake James on Leigh’s boat! Thanks Leigh!


Wooden flooring dries in the AB-Tech woodshop


Fun in the sun on Leigh’s boat

This post was written by our forewoman of the week Christina Booher


So many details

With much of the heavy lifting complete, the team has moved on to a preponderance of detail-oriented tasks. Lizete focuses on some precision woodcutting at the jigsaw.


Lizete attempts to ignore the photographer while she works with sharp objects.


Lizete at the jigsaw.

These two steel pieces of the canopy superstructure (below) were torch-cut. Torch-cutting resulted in a more imprecise outcome than the structure requires, so Ashley marked the outline with a sharpie and finished the job with a hand-held grinder. These two steel pieces will cradle the central canopy beam. Eventually they’ll get painted Electric Lime green.


Ashley compares the torch-cut pieces to a wooden pattern.

Meanwhile, Melody drilled holes for the bolts that will join metal to wood on the stage. She periodically stopped the machine to oil the drill bit. Afterwards, she carefully scraped away metal built up around the sides of the hole – it’s sharp, and could injure someone.


Melody at the drill. 


Melody scrapes shredded metal from a plate.  


Christina uses the wheel grinder to sharpen a tool

Canopy Superstructure Complete!

Hoss Haley has generously volunteered to finish the welds on the side of the trailer. Right now, these steel pieces are tacked on. For the uninitiated among us, that means they’re held by small temporary welds. It’s the welding equivalent of a basting stitch!IMG_6135


The squad examines the work ahead of them.

Lizete and Allison teamed up to troubleshoot an engineering problem on the computer. The joint at the top of the canopy arch must be held together by a piece of steel, but some math is necessary to determine what size is appropriate.


Lizete and Allison discuss their conclusions with Luke Perry.


Lizete checks the canopy specs.

All four wooden supports of the canopy are complete! The stain, purchased from EarthPaint Asheville, was selected because it was environmentally friendly, durable, and easy to source locally. The color came out great!


Two of the finished canopy beams (above) and the specs they’re based on (below).


Drill baby drill!


Caitlin in the zone

By Wednesday, the entire team had crossed over from grumpy tired to hysterical-laughter tired. “There is no being a girl,” a once female-identified student said, “There is only building.”

IMG_6314Meanwhile, Chad and Calum work on the metal frame for the wings, which will fold down over the wheel wells of the trailer. See those holes in the steel? That’s where the springs will go. The springs allow the wings to fold down safely (so no one gets bonked on the head by the massive weight of a wing) and easily (so two people can easily set up the U-LEAF stage).IMG_6204 IMG_6206