Rust Belt Design

A Rust Belt Education

How design students in legacy cities like Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland are helping to revive their local communities.

Architect, August 2016

In a seminar room overlooking Cleveland’s Playhouse Square one day last winter, a dozen graduate students of architecture and urban design trained their attention on a screen. A guest lecturer, Kassie Hilgert, was joining them by video from Bethlehem, Pa. The director of a nonprofit called ArtsQuest, Hilgert described how her group had worked to transform part of a historic, disused steelworks complex into a busy arts-and-culture campus. The students jotted down notes as she emphasized the importance of tapping into authentic local traditions, getting government buy-in, and making public spaces as flexible as possible.

Adaptive reuse of rusting blast furnaces may not be a typical lesson for design students, but Cleveland is “not a place you come and spit out typical urban-design plans,” says Jeffrey Kruth. He’s a senior urban designer at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), a nonprofit community-design center that is part of Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design; the center shares space with the university’s graduate programs on Euclid Avenue downtown. Most members of CUDC’s staff also teach, and it hires students to work on its professional projects. In other words, the studio—spread over the loft-like second story of the historic Cowell & Hubbard building, once home to a jewelry store—blends teaching, research, and the practice of social-impact design.

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