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International architecture student creates concept for Volga structure

Despite spending only one semester at South Dakota State University, Iqra Abbasi will leave her mark in the area. Abbasi and eight other third-year architecture students in the Architecture 351 Building Collaborations Studio were assigned to design a space at the intersection of Volga’s Second Street and Kasan Avenue.

Abbasi’s design was chosen to be implemented at the site in 2017.

“It’s like a dream. I feel like I am going to wake up because I am never going to have this experience ever again,” said Abbasi, who is attending State as part of the International Research and Exchanges Board’s Global Undergraduate Exchange Program.

The SDSU class researched Volga to determine what type of structure would best suit it and then created a spatial model of the town. Abbasi said she initially had a tough time with the project because her classmates were trying to replicate a building in the town while she thought she should be more creative.

“I was really confused because the way people work here is profoundly different from how I worked in Pakistan,” Abbasi said. 

Abbasi said that when studying architecture in Pakistan, models are typically built manually. While it takes longer than the computer-based approach in the U.S., she believes the hands-on method helped develop her creativity.

volga architecture structure model
The structure set to be implemented in downtown Volga is a series of four Vs. The bases are widened so visitors can sit on them.

It took Abbasi two weeks to design to understand the class concept and to create her design. The design is a series of four Vs connected.

“When a person walks, their legs form an upside-down V. My project also represents V for Volga,” Abbasi said.

When Abbasi submitted her design, she said it took the class about five minutes to decide that her design would be the one implemented. The students collaborated behind her concept and pushed the design further.

“Iqra’s idea was very different in terms of the direction she took in her initial proposal. Initially, I think that’s why it stood out. It was a head-scratcher at first, it but made more sense the further we went along,” said Brian Lee, an instructor in the Department of Architecture. “I think part of it was that there was a simplicity to it. A lot of the earlier concepts were potentially difficult to build.”

The structure will be 14-feet high. The base of the Vs are extended on both sides so people can sit or lean on them. In the top left-hand corner of the structure, signage for the town can be placed.

Gage Brothers, a precast concrete firm in Sioux Falls, is producing the structure’s pieces. Either the class or another firm will assemble the structure. The pieces will be finished as early as February, according to Preconstruction Manager Eric Kurtz. Gage Brothers and Kurtz previously worked with SDSU architecture students when building a structure in Mobridge as part of the Precast Concrete Industry grant, supplied by the PCI Foundation.

“It’s a real interesting process they’ve developed there. It kind of allows the students to get into what they’re doing in the future. The program itself is very thorough and gives them an experience a lot of schools don’t give,” said Kurtz, a 1985 State graduate in civil engineering.

Thanks to the PCI grant, architecture students have designed structures for Huron, Milbank, Mobridge and Webster. Students designed seating and a passageway outside of Huron’s Kansas Mall while a monument was built along a former railroad in Mobridge. According to the class, the structure in Volga is set in the heart of downtown, a site where the town gathers for parades and ice cream socials. 

A soil test has been completed on the Volga site. Abbasi’s design will be placed following some work at the site and a change of seasons. Volga City Administrator Jameson Berreth said that the structure will enhance the downtown area.

“It’s important for people to have a sense of pride in their town, to think that it looks nice. It enhances the quality of life,” Berreth said. 

Abbasi will return to Pakistan to complete her undergraduate degree in architecture after the fall semester ends. Although she will not see the completed structure, Abbasi is returning to her home country with feelings of accomplishment. 

“It’s an actual physical mark that I am leaving here. I don’t care if I don’t get anything out of it or not, but I know that I designed it."