UK Studio Appalachia Designs for Communities

By Meg Mills

"Williamsburg Urban Revitalization Studio Collage" by Emily Preece.

At 500 million years old, Appalachia is one of the oldest environments on Earth. It stretches from southern New York through northern Mississippi. The region contains the entire state of West Virginia and portions of 12 other states including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The University of Kentucky College of Design sits on the doorstep of Appalachia. Proximity to the region inspired the College of Design to establish Studio Appalachia as a catalyst for a positive change by means of community engagement. Studio Appalachia pursues design research projects that address issues that have confronted the Appalachia region for decades.

Faculty members Gregory Marinic, interim director of the School of Interiors and director of graduate studies, and Assistant Professor Rebekah Ison Radtke collaborated on one of the first Studio Appalachia projects in Williamsburg, Kentucky. Taking cues from Appalachian history and geography, their studio explored interventions to existing building façades, outdoor spaces and interiors. Students investigated the renewal of existing buildings through the lens of preservation, intervention and transformation of utilitarian "everyday" structures. The project yielded three-fold outcomes — the development of a foundational body of Appalachian design research, the curation of an exhibit in Williamsburg, and the conceptual design of a future Studio Appalachia web portal.

At the urban scale, reimagining the central core of downtown Williamsburg offered an opportunity to serve multiple user groups of various abilities, generations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Students implemented a comprehensive analysis of geographic, cultural, historical and demographic aspects of the broader Appalachia region. At the beginning of the semester, students collaboratively developed a broad-based survey of Appalachia, a 12-town region in Southeastern Kentucky, and downtown Williamsburg. Students identified sites in downtown Williamsburg for intervention.

"These projects are not just valuable for the students but equally valuable for the community. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that provides students a great learning experience, while applying design research that will impact Kentucky," Radtke said.

Comsumptive Territories Studio data visualization model.

Lindsey Fay, an assistant professor of interiors at UK, is currently involved in a project with her students to help benefit Hazard, Kentucky. Collaborating with the College of Health Sciences, the project will develop designs for the Kentucky Appalachian Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology Center (KAART). Fay stated that the objectives of her rural health studio are to “engage members of the Hazard, Kentucky, community in a participatory design process so our students can gain empathy for the intended visitors of the center. The KAART Center will bring new innovative and upgraded services to this community, setting new standards for medical care and educational opportunities and improve the lives of Kentuckians for years to come."

Bailey Dwyer, a fourth-year interior student in Fay’s studio, finds the style of collaborative and experiential learning to be especially beneficial. "This is a lot more tangible of a project because it is community-based. We have to figure out what is best for the people that are going to use the space. There is also more motivation. You build relationships with the clients. I know who they are, and I know how they are going to use the space to help them."

Students in Studio Appalachia often use grants to help fund their projects or to pitch their ideas to the communities that seek additional funding. Thus far, Studio Appalachia community outreach work and speculative proposals have also been completed in Butler, Harlan, Williamsburg and other towns in the Ohio Valley region.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue

 

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