Kerr Cultural Center now officially a 'historic place'

July 19, 2010

In most parts of Europe, a historic building means one that is a mere 1,300 years old or so.

In Scottsdale, however, a 62-year-old structure is old enough to make the cut for the National Register of Historical Places. Download Full Image

ASU’s Kerr Cultural Center, Scottsdale, is one of the newest listees on the NRHP, culminating a two-year process of local, state and national approval.

Kerr Cultural Center, which includes an adobe house built in 1948 and adobe studio added in 1959 by musician Louise Lincoln Kerr, is the 12th ASU property to be included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Eight listed properties are on the Tempe campus and three are on the Polytechnic campus.

In Tempe are Old Main (1894); Harrington Birchett House (1895); Virginia G. Piper Writers House (1907); University Club (1909); School of Human Evolution and Social Change (1914); Matthews Hall (1918); Moeur Building (1939); and Gammage Auditorium (1964).

(The Harrington Birchett House sits on land purchased by ASU in 1989. No plans have been made as yet for the land or the house.)

Polytechnic properties are Facilities Management 03 (1941); Ammo Bunkers (1941); and the Flagpole (1941).

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation's historic places deemed worthy of preservation. The register, which now contains 85,822 properties, was created through the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and is part of the National Park Service.

The register is not limited to buildings. Sites, districts, structures – such as the Ammo Bunkers at the Polytechnic campus – and objects – such as the Polytechnic flagpole – are eligible for inclusion.

According to Patricia Olson, an architect who works in the University Architect’s Office and is in charge of ASU’s NRHP process, a place qualifies for listing based on its age, significance and integrity.

“Properties must be 50 years old or older,” she said, while properties less than 50 years old must demonstrate “exceptional importance” (as was the case with Gammage Auditorium when it was listed at less than 50 years.)

“Properties also must be associated with historic events or activities, or with an important person in history, have a distinctive design or physical character, or the potential to provide important information about prehistory or history,” she explained.

The third category, integrity, is a little harder to define. “To be eligible for listing, a property must retain as many as possible of the characteristics that made it significant, such as location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association,” Olson said.

If the property meets the eligibility requirements, a nomination to the state and national registers can be pursued.

What are the benefits of having a property listed on the NRHP?

According to the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the listing can raise community awareness and pride, increase property value, and qualify the property for tax incentives and grants. The goal is to protect historic properties and keep them in use.

Kerr Cultural Center, which presents concerts under the auspices of ASU Gammage (formerly ASU Public Events), is an intimate performing-arts venue (and popular site for weddings) tucked behind a hotel in Scottsdale.

Kerr (pronounced Care) is listed in the National Register as the Louise Lincoln Kerr House and Studio, in recognition of the original owner, Louise Lincoln Kerr (1892-1977), an accomplished musician, composer and local patroness of the arts. The buildings are also significant as a rare example of Spanish Colonial style adobe architecture in Scottsdale.

When Mrs. Kerr built her home and studio, which seats approximately 300, the area north of downtown Scottsdale was desert. The property also had several “shacks,” where visiting artists stayed. Among the noted performers who came to the studio to give recitals or perform with Mrs. Kerr were Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals, and the Budapest and Juilliard string quartets.

Mrs. Kerr donated her home and studio to ASU just before her death with the request that it remain in use as a performance venue.

The property is protected under a 50-year Conservation Easement agreement established between ASU and the City of Scottsdale in 2008. In addition to the National Register listing, it is also listed in the State Register of Historic Places and the City of Scottsdale Register of Historic Places.

Sight enhancement: Disability sparks invention

July 19, 2010

ASU students create a device to help people with visual impairments succeed in the classroom

David Hayden turned frustration with his visual impairment into motivation, and the result has earned an Arizona State University student research team a top prize in a major international competition for technological innovation.

Computer science student Hayden and team member Andrew Kelley recently returned from Warsaw, Poland, with a first-place trophy from the 2010 Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals organized by Microsoft, a global leader in computer software development and services.

Overall, more than 325,000 students from more than 100 countries took part in stages of the competition leading to the finals.

Some 50 student teams from around the world entered a special category of the competition that challenged them to find creative ways to use Microsoft Windows-based Tablet PCs to improve access to education.

Of those 50 teams, the ASU group was one of only two whose projects earned them invitations to Warsaw to compete at the Imagine Cup finals.

Hayden’s and Kelley’s presentation and demonstration of the Note-Taker, a system designed to aid the visually impaired, deeply impressed the panel of judges, said ASU research scientist John Black.

Necessity drove invention

Black mentored the team, which developed the Note-Taker system in the Center">">Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing – known as CUbiC – in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

CUbiC’s research is aimed at developing computer-based assistive and rehabilitative technologies for people with perceptual or cognitive disabilities.

The Note-Taker team, led by Hayden, includes computer science undergraduate Kelley, computer science doctoral student Mike Rush, industrial design graduate student Liqing Zhou, electrical engineering undergraduate Michael Astrauskas, and post-doctoral research associate Gaurav Pradhan.

An Imagine Cup trophy wasn’t on Hayden’s mind when he began the Note-Taker project about two years ago. 

It started when he realized that his visual disability was jeopardizing his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree with a dual major in computer science and mathematics.
None of the commercially available assistive technologies allowed Hayden to keep up with classroom note-taking in advanced mathematics coursework, during which instructors often filled more than a dozen whiteboards with theorems and proofs in a mere 45 minutes. Left with little recourse, Hayden began working on a solution.

Multifunctional system

The Note-Taker consists of a portable, custom-designed video camera and a Tablet PC. The camera is able to tilt up and down, and sweep side to side, as well as zoom in on its target. The Tablet PC provides a split-screen display.

One half of the screen has a window that shows live video from the camera, while the other half has a window that is used for handwriting or typing notes.

This dual-window interface allows students with visual impairment to quickly glance back and forth between the live view of the classroom whiteboard and their notes, just like their sighted peers. The video window also allows the user to aim and zoom the camera by simply dragging, tapping or pinching within the video window.

As the development of the proof-of-concept prototype progressed, Black sought support from the National Science Foundation for further development, which brought a grant of about $400,000 over a two-year period.

As the Note-Taker’s development progressed, the team discovered Microsoft had added a category to the Imagine Cup  competition that challenged students to find ways to use Tablet PC technology to make education more accessible.  “It was as if that category was tailored specifically to our project,” Black says.

Overcoming limitations

Their success at the Imagine Cup finals also got Hayden and Kelley an invitation to the recent Microsoft Faculty Research Summit at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

At the event’s DemoFest they demonstrated the Note-Taker to hundreds of academics, government officials and Microsoft researchers.

Hayden says that the Note-Taker overcomes the limitations of many assistive technologies which “force students with disabilities to rely on a special classroom infrastructure, or on people who aren’t always available when the student needs assistance.”

The Note-Taker solves the problem by being portable, inexpensive, small enough to fit on a typical classroom desk, and easy to set up. Teachers don’t need to adapt their instructional methods. They are often unaware it is being used, Hayden says.

Work continues on improving the functionality and the aesthetics of the Note-Taker. The team wants to expand its capabilities by providing audio/video recording that allows synchronized playback of lectures, along with the corresponding handwritten or typed notes, so students can review lessons after classes.

Goals for the future

With these and other substantial improvements, the team plans to enter the Imagine Cup competition again next year in the larger and even more competitive Software Development category.

Hayden, who was recently awarded the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science. He says the experience with the Note-Taker has bolstered his commitment to achieving further advances in portable, wearable and prosthetic technologies that help people improve their capabilities in perception, cognition and mobility.

The Note-Taker team is currently seeking assistance from ASU students with visual disabilities who would like to be involved in the continuing development and testing of the system.  If interested, contact John Black at Download Full Image

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering