Participation, Performance & Playfulness – U-LEAF

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

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

Week 6

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Last Tuesday, the team met with LEAF to discuss the latest design moves and make sure we were keeping on target.  During our conversations, we discovered some needs that were not met, such as the need for a complete rain covering over the stage.  Up to that point, we had designed a covering that acted as a shading device, but this new requirement shifted our focus for the canopy.  To make better use of our remaining time and materials budget, the team developed a two-part plan for the new design.  The central canopy over the actual trailer will be of a lightweight rigid material, such as polycarbonate or corrugated plastic sheathing, and the canopy over the unfolded wings will be of a retractable canvas.  The wing coverings will be later acquired by LEAF as funding permits.  The structure was simplified to accommodate the rigid panels, and the steel component was lowered to support additional members, resulting in a more efficient design. Another thing to consider was that they would have an hour and a half for stage set up at a typical event. We discussed including community input by allowing children to paint the auxiliary boxes designed by the team.

Over the week the team finished a full scale mock-up for the superstructure. This allowed us to finalized the height of the frame and visualized the space on the stage.

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We also learned how to weld! We have a new volunteer from AB Tech who will be overseeing the metal work. Susan has already contributed her time and expertise.

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With Susan’s guidance we prepared the trailer for construction. Several team members focused on grinding the contact points for future welds and removing unneeded pieces.

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At the same time, other students cut the steel posts to weld to the deck of the trailer. There was also a group who focused on honing their welding skills.

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There were several pieces ordered during the week including mechanical assist components:

1. Jacks

2. Winches

3. Paint

4. Flat bar steel for hinge tabs to be CNC plasma cut at Clemson.

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With construction under way, the team looks forward to seeing the U-LEAF come to life!

Raw materials are in!

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Luke Perry is pretty excited about the donation from Sunbrella!

With many of the students going home for Independence Day last weekend, the students had to rush to get everything done with only four days of work. They built a 1″ model of the U-LEAF stage in preparation for a visit from Michelle and Tim, who are consulting the students on engineering aspects of the design. They discussed the placement of the winches and the distribution of stress on the canopy, which will drive the material (wood or steel) that must be used.

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The team explains how the overhang will function with the help of a model.

The team has determined the the ULEAF will unfold both long walls of the trailer. A major design challenge for our students was the wheel well of the trailer, because it demands that the stage floor be elevated off the trailer base. A wooden model built by the team (shown below) demonstrates how this challenge was overcome. The side folds down over the wheel well with the help of a strong spring (for ease of use and safety), and the gap is filled like a puzzle-piece.

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DesignBuild students David Koontz and Chad Ekre demonstrate how the stage will expand over the trailer’s wheel well to visiting instructors.

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All hands on deck! The students put the finishing touches on a 1″ scale model before the guest instructors arrive.

Crunch Time!

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This week the team spent a lot of time working out details of how the U-LEAF will come together.  Teams worked on mechanical assist components, details of the canopy superstructure, and putting together a digital Revit model. Michelle Felicetti of Medlock & Associates Engineering helped with checking our changes in our structure to make sure it would function when built.  On Wednesday, the team got to meet with Jay Pisaro, the tech director at LEAF, Tim Callahan of Alembic Studio, and Ryan Massengill, a past DesignBuild student. Each visitor was very helpful and gave really great feedback that was essential to keeping our proces moving forward.

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We were able to develop our first full-scale mock-up testing the torsion spring system. Much to our satisfaction, this mechanical system is an awesome addition to the U-LEAF and begins simplifying some of our previous concerns about safe deployment and weight. As we dug deeper into the details of the design we were able to not only pump out another iteration of the super-structure but also get into the modifications of the winch and pulley system that we will be added to the design. Through working out these details and counting out materials we were able to accomplish a great deal this past week.
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Outside of the shop we were given a great opportunity to reach out to the community. As we continue to design the U-LEAF an important component is to remember who the users and viewers will be once it is complete. Going to the Burton Street Community Center and engaging with children from the age of ten to thirteen allowed us to answer some questions that had been weighing on us. Also, the children were able to give us a lot of feedback and design criticism to help us develop the U-LEAF. If we can get the approval of the children who plan to use the mobile stage then I think we, as designers and producers of this project, are in great condition!

This post was written by forewomen of the week Melody Bazzle and Julia Chapman

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