While many of us may just pass by old, deteriorating buildings, for three students in Adjunct Lecturer Wiebke Theodore's independent study it is just this style of aging architecture that is the focus of their semester-long study.

For the past four months, Niko Kubota '10, Evan Farley '11 and Cole Merrick '11 have been working with Theodore to preserve and reinvigorate a 19th-century freight shed in downtown Bath.

Theodore explained that "engaging with real places has been at the core of my teaching method."

As partner and co-owner of Theodore + Theodore Architects, Theodore has devoted her practice to creating simple structures that are considerate of their physical and historical context. She was familiar with the Bath site because her former studio overlooked the 151-foot shed for several years.

The shed, which was formerly used as a storage site, has remained vacant for several years. Though, according to Theodore, the owner would like to see the building saved, he recognizes that a developer might see the site as more attractive without the building.

In an effort to save the building and foster public engagement in the waterfront, Kubota, Farley and Merrick have spent the semester creating renovation proposals for the site.

They are currently immersed in the final stages of design and are completing models, plotting boards and making slides in preparation for their presentation to the town in a public community conversation on May 5.

Theodore hopes that "considering design ideas for the site [and] having collaborative brainstorming sessions" has helped the search for a developer.

The project, however, is not an official town venture with any established timeline or sponsors. Instead the studies serve to stimulate thinking and conversations about the site and provide a site-based design experience for the Bowdoin students.

Theodore's connections to the local area, including vendors at the local farmer's market who put her in touch with Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT), gave the project grounding in the local community. These interactions enabled the students to experience the design process in a collaborative dimension. Though all three students took earlier community-driven architecture courses with Theodore, the Bath project has increased the level of engagement by site-specific demands and feedback sessions with KELT.

Emerging from a desire to create designs with what Theodore called "layered functions" that will allow the site to serve as a "hearth for the city," each student articulated a different vision for the site.

The varied interpretations of the building and site produced new ways to access the public waterfront and buildings that could facilitate connections with local agriculture, as well as renewable energy sources, gardens and commuter parking.

Farley, who identified the "relationship with the water" as the driving point for his design, calls for a colorful, sculptural canopy to contrast with the brick and limestone of the site.

Theodore commented on the "interactive...constantly changing" shadows that would result from the canopy and "give the effect of being in the water," explained Farley.

This coming summer, Farley will be continuing his work with the site through a Russack Costal Studies Fellowship. With the grant, he will either be painting directly on the building or he will be using it as a site to exhibit his paintings.

Merrick, a visual arts and environmental studies double major, said that in his design, he "really wanted to focus on a design that would remember the town's history while renewing Bath as a town. I wanted my design to be inspiring, and intend it to help put Bath as a place to come visit in the United States."

After studying the structure of a boat's hull, he proposed splitting the freight shed in half and replacing the roof with what Theodore called "a highly curvilinear [roof] that refers to the hull of a boat." His plan for the Bath Center features a farmers' market and event center, a restaurant and office space.

Kubota, a sociology major and visual arts minor, who will pursue a master's degree in architecture upon graduating this spring, noted that his design process was "heavily influenced by my coursework in sociology and an urban design course I took [while abroad] in Denmark."

After spending the first part of the semester learning about the site and about Bath, he determined that a phased building plan would be the best way to make use of the site.

Kubota explained that "instead of just coming and doing all of the building in one fell swoop, the project would be built up incrementally, one improvement at a time" allowing the time needed to "attract attention to this under used area" and minimizing the initial investment.

The first stage of Kubota's plan involves painting the shed to attract attention to its possible new role in the community. In the second phase, the shed would be connected with the waterfront by a dock, and gardens are built to connect it to the land.

The third stage involves a renovation of the shed and a roof replacement so that it can house a farmers' market and café. Finally, the proposal culminates in the addition of a full kitchen and office space.

Theodore noted how Kubota's "incremental approach with small scale intervention can help generate interest [in the site] and...build community."

After a semester of intensive architecture study at the DIS in Copenhagen, Kubota, Merrick and Farley chose Theodore's seminar for its capacity for independent work.

The Bath project has enabled an independent artistic process that incorporated an authentic client-designer relationship while engaging with the public.

Though each student is producing a unique design that responds to his personal interpretation of the site, they are able to influence and challenge each other in their work, and responding to a shared site and set of demands.

Whether any of the designs are realized, the process of direct community interaction and the possibility of transformation provided by each design makes it a worthwhile exercise.

The designs presentations will be held at the Winter Street Center at 880 Washington Street in Bath at 5 p.m. on Wednesday May 5.