An exhibit that went on display last week in the Whetstone Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library was nearly two years in the making.

An exhibit that went on display last week in the Whetstone Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library was nearly two years in the making.

Now the husband-and-wife team of an architectural firm is eager to see what Clintonville residents have to make of it.

Ironically, it was the demolition of the old Clinton Theater on North High Street that got Tim Lai and Eliza Ho, principals of Tim Lai ArchitecT and founders of the nonprofit organization ALTernative, to begin the thought process that led to "Good Design in Hard Times," a display that spent the month of January at the Ohio State University Urban Arts Space downtown before moving to the Whetstone Library last week.

A reception is scheduled at the library for Friday, Feb. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The exhibit, which will remain in the branch throughout April, depicts four potential inexpensive design projects in Columbus neighborhoods, including one in Clintonville, the point being that aesthetics don't have to disappear in the face of a less-than-stellar economic situation.

"You just need to be more creative when the time is bad," Ho said.

A presentation regarding the projects, three murals and a sort of food court for mobile restaurants, will take place at 7 the evening of the opening reception.

The purpose of the Feb. 24 event, according to Lai, is to let members of the community know what ALTernative is trying to accomplish.

"We definitely want to engage more people," he said. "A lot of it is also going to be intelligence-gathering, idea-gathering."

The architect and designer announced the formation of the nonprofit organization in late November.

"There is so much potential in improving neighborhoods through creative design, and we like to initiate projects that can transform the neighborhood for the better," Ho, executive director for ALTernative, ALT for short, stated at the time in a press release. "We like to pitch design ideas to generate public interest and stimulate discussions. We believe there are multiple ways to improve neighborhoods, and we're dedicated to the use of creative design."

Ho and Lai consider themselves to be very much a part of Clintonville, although they live just south of the neighborhood and used to operate the architectural firm out of their home. They recently moved to studio space in a renovated warehouse in Franklinton.

It's at this warehouse, Lai and Ho said last week, that one of the more ambitious of the projects depicted in "Good Design in Hard Times" might come to fruition.

"Dinin' Hall" would involve a building or covered space in an area surrounded by food trucks. Initially, Lai said he thought a central ordering system would work best, but has since come to learn both diners and food truck operators prefer person-to-person ordering, so perhaps a central pay station would work.

In any event, the landlord of the Franklinton warehouse appears to be warming to the concept being placed at the site of the former loading dock, Lai said. The neighborhood is ripe for the "Dinin' Hall" concept, his wife added, because it's in something of a "food desert.'

The idea for the food court for food truck patrons came about, Ho said, because it's difficult to patronize such operations with two children and no place to sit down.

"It's very chaotic, the experience," she said. "The food is already good, but the dining experience is not very good for people with kids."

Like "Dinin' Hall," at least two of the other projects depicted in the exhibit at the branch library might well be on their way to eventual existence.

These include the Clintonville mural, one depicting oversized birds inside the Indianola Bridge overpass bridge as part of the Lower Olentangy Urban Arboretum's efforts to install a bird sanctuary in that area, and another mural near the one already in place on a formerly graffiti-scarred building at Hudson and Summit streets.

David Brown, a friend of Lai and Ho as well as a member of the Glen Echo Neighbors Civic Association, supports the efforts of ALTernative and the projects outlined in "Good Design in Hard Times." He said that he's particularly interested in neighborhood organizations becoming involved in "low-cast, high-impact" projects with lots of visibility and the potential for a positive effect on the area.

"There's something exciting about a creative neighborhood opportunity that gets people out," Brown said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

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