by Ann M. Colford

H idden amid the cattails in a boggy corner of the Riverpoint campus lie the remains of Marmotville, an early railroad village named for the ubiquitous local fauna. Few records remain of the bustling turn-of-the-century town, which was destroyed by flooding along the Spokane River, but lately, mysterious artifacts have been turning up at the former town site. A glove, a hat, a whiskbroom -- no one has been able to explain what links the objects. But a group of local middle school students is about to find out.

What's that you say? You've lived here all your life and never heard of Marmotville? Ah, my friend, you've never been to Summer Design Camp, a week-long adventure in multiple disciplines offered by the Interdisciplinary Design Institute at WSU-Spokane. Landscape architect and adjunct faculty member Elizabeth Payne will lead a group of campers as they explore the site and then put their design skills to work to recreate the "town."

"It's a kind of a treasure hunt," she explains. "We open up a suitcase of artifacts, and the premise is they're from an old railroad town. Each artifact represents a character -- a milliner, a railroad worker -- who worked in the town. Then we go out to the site and they do an archaeological dig to uncover the locations of buildings in the town."

Each camper will find the plans for one home in the town, and together they'll map the layout of streets and buildings. Using information about the styles of period houses and the individuals who lived in them, the campers will determine an appropriate interior design scheme for their houses. Next, they'll design and build models of the houses.

"Ultimately, we'll have them build a new suburban subdivision, complete with curved roads, to see how roads affected the development of the town," Payne explains. "We'll talk about the American Elm, and how the railroads subdivided towns and planted street trees."

Along the way, the campers learn about city planning, landscape architecture, a history of residential styles and interior design principles. They'll do perspective drawings of interiors filled with people and furnishings; they'll create front elevations based on the house plans; and they'll be introduced to new technology like Computer-Aided Design (CAD). Perhaps most important, they'll have a lot of fun in the process.

"A lot of these kids come from families where they're told they're the messiest one in the family," Payne says. "Here, it's our space. They can leave things in progress."

Summer Design Camp has been an annual event at WSU-Spokane for several years now, since its founding by Doug Menzies. This year, Payne -- who's been involved with camp for three years -- will be joined by faculty members Bob Scarfo, Matt Melcher and David Wang, representing the institute's disciplines. About 20 middle schoolers participate in the camp, and campers may return from one year to the next because topics and lessons vary. For example, last year's campers visited the Davenport Hotel just before its grand reopening.

"Every year it's totally different," says Payne. "Last year, we went to the Davenport and we got to go into the ballrooms. We saw the Hall of Doges as they were getting it ready. We talked about the design and history of ballrooms, then we came back and built a model of a ballroom."

While campers are usually creative kids, not all of them are destined for careers in design. The idea is to introduce campers to hands-on design techniques as well as to some of the theory and history inherent within the built environment. Some campers may go on to pursue design careers eventually, but for now they have a whole new vocabulary for fun activities.

"Last year, two of the boys realized they lived two blocks apart, so they continued their ballroom project throughout the summer," Payne recalls. "They kept working on the model and turned it into a palace complete with a moat."

And the campers aren't the only ones who learn, Payne says. Sometimes what the parents learn can be life-changing, too -- one camper's mother decided she wanted to go back to school to study design after her child attended camp.

"The kids want to share the project with their parents, so we try to document everything in a form they can take home," she says. "They have models and blueprints along with photos that they can provide a story for and narrate."

So you can add storytelling to the lessons learned at Summer Design Camp. And don't be surprised if you start hearing a lot more about Marmotville.

The 2003 Summer Design Day Camp will be held Monday-Friday, June 23-27, from 9 am-2:30 pm at the WSU-Spokane Interdisciplinary Design Institute on the Riverpoint Campus, 668 Riverpoint Blvd. Cost: $175; some discounts are available. Call: 358-7920 or visit

Publication date: 06/19/03

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