Iowa State University student Lauren Kenny designed a fire pit incorporating bricks from Manning’s Main Street and a protective metal grate mimicking Iowa’s prairie grasses as part of a group of proposed projects for the city of Manning.
Iowa State University student Lauren Kenny designed a fire pit incorporating bricks from Manning’s Main Street and a protective metal grate mimicking Iowa’s prairie grasses as part of a group of proposed projects for the city of Manning.

A tree sculpture that sings. A fire pit incorporating prairie-grass designs. A metal sculpture incorporating monkey bars.

When the city of Manning asked a design communication class at Iowa State University to devise designs for public art and signs in the city of about 1,500 that continues to cast out a net for new ideas, the students delivered.

The class of almost 30 presented a variety of designs and ideas to Manning Mayor Harvey Dales and Main Street Manning Board President Ron Reischl last week. Once some of the designs have been finalized and narrowed down before the end of the year, a few members of the class will travel to Manning to discuss the city’s implementation of several of the proposed projects. Eventually, Manning will incorporate several of the designs into the city’s streetscape, along Highway 141 and at the in-progress Trestle Park.

“The students appreciate and love the opportunity to work on a real-life problem, and they look forward to the chance of their designs being integrated into a real-life project,” Reischl said. “It’s hugely beneficial for both parties.”

The designs, most of which stem from proposals from Manning’s most recent participation with Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program, offer ideas for public art in Trestle Park, another in-progress project in Manning, as well as along Highway 141. A separate proposal asked for ideas for a sign at Manning’s east entrance announcing the Carroll County Freedom Rock and the German Hausbarn.

Students in the class visited Manning in September, allowing them to see the city for which they were crafting ideas.

Much of the artwork or projects students proposed was interactive — including a metal sculpture that incorporates monkey bars, a sculpture kids can walk through that mimics the image of grasses blown by the wind and a tree-like sculpture that catches the wind in its “leaves” as children spin it, merry-go-round style, to create natural music. For many of the projects, students also created animations to demonstration to Manning representatives how their pieces would function.

Another design depicts a fire pit at Trestle Park, incorporating bricks from Main Street and a protective metal grate designed to resemble Iowa’s prairie grasses.

“Harvey and I were blown away by that one,” Reischl said. “We’re going to make that happen.”

Manning’s collaborations with the Iowa State University College of Design have resulted in several concrete projects in Manning, including signs for the city’s renovated downtown buildings and the “Welcome to Manning” signs on either end of town.

“As has occurred in all of our past interaction sand projects with the College of Design, we were blown away by the breadth of ideas and the large diversity of ideas,” Reischl said. “It will be very difficult to choose one or two designs.”

In fact, the initial idea for creating a park around the historic railroad trestle on Manning’s northern edge came from a group of College of Design students visiting Manning some time ago, Reischl said.

He added that he enjoyed visiting Ames and speaking with students about the thought process behind their designs.

Manning will likely complete additional fundraising for some of the projects the students have proposed, Reischl said.

The interdisciplinary class involved in this particular collaboration with Manning incorporates students of a variety of ages and from a variety of majors, including advertising, design and engineering said ISU Department of Architecture lecturer Reinaldo Correa, who teaches the class.

Correa, who has a background in public art and architecture and who used to work with RDG Planning & Design in Manning, said he enjoyed collaborating with Manning.

“I thought this was a good opportunity for students not only to learn design but to meet members of a community and use design as a means to empower and create art and design that would help the infrastructure and experience of a small town in Iowa,” he said.

For some of his students, he added, this was their first opportunity to complete design projects out of the classroom and work on designs that might move past the theoretical stage.

“As soon as you do a project of this sort, dealing with real people — it became very tangible and real for them early on,” Correa said. “Students are saying they have something in their portfolio that’s meaningful. Ron, Harvey and (City Manager Dawn Rohe) have been really hands-on, and when students see that, they feel as though they’re doing something that’s meaningful.

Seeing a design go from an idea to a tangible, physical form in the real world is very gratifying.”