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Students from the School of Design worked tirelessly this weekend to create potential plans for casinos in the city and wrapped up their work with a surprise visit from Mayor John Street.

The 2005 Penn School of Design Charrette -- or final work effort expended by art and architecture students to meet a project deadline -- was a grueling design sprint. Most students slept only a couple of hours between the start of the program on Thursday and its conclusion Sunday morning.

Street showed up during the judging of the 22 teams' presentations when the two winners were announced. He was also present on Thursday during the early planning stages.

The students were working on designs for new buildings that could potentially house the slot machines authorized by Governor Ed Rendell last year.

The two winning designs were "A Thousand Bridges -- A Thousand Drops" for a site on the Delaware River and "Centrifuge for Urban Regeneration" for a Market Street site.

"Street came on his own and was very relaxed and interested in the students' proposals," said Harris Steinberg, the dean of PennPraxis, a division of the School of Design.

Street was so impressed that he requested the work of the charrette -- both the principles learned and the students' designs -- be presented to the City Council and the mayor's gambling task force, Steinberg said.

The Philadelphia Daily News -- which co-sponsored the weekend of work -- is currently planning on printing many of the student designs and ideas in the paper. The designs are also currently displayed in Meyerson Hall.

Andrew Nothstine, one of the student planners, said the fact that the mayor showed up twice for the charrette is indicative of its success.

"Most of the students were excited about the involvement of the media, the involvement of the mayor and the chance to make an impact on an important issue," Nothstine said.

Each of the teams consisted of four or five students and represented at least three of the five disciplines of the School of Design.

The teams picked one of two sample sites -- either Market Street or the riverfront -- and were then briefed about the issue.

Many people noted that this event was a great example of how the University and the city can work together.

"These civic engagement projects organized by PennPraxis provide an opportunity for the knowledge of our students and the needs of the community to overlap," Steinberg said.

Nothstine agreed.

"What the charrette really showed from a very broad viewpoint was how Penn and the city can contribute to each other. ... It is really a win-win situation," he said.

While the charrette allowed the students to be at "the cutting edge of an issue," according to Steinberg, it was also an intellectual endeavor that provided a valuable learning experience.

City and regional planning student Aaron Reisner -- who was part of one of the runner-up teams -- said the charrette "was a good opportunity to work in an area of interdisciplinary context."

Elizabeth Boyd, another student in the city planning program, agreed, saying that while talking about gambling in general was interesting, seeing how students in various disciplines approached the issue fascinated her.

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