Humanitarian Design: University Programs

By John Cary

March 2012

There are estimated to be over 100 community design programs in universities across the country, a great many of which maintain active design/build components or full-blown community design centers. Below are just a few of the standout programs, recognized nationally and distinguished for their commitment to design and unique models of community engagement. Post additional programs in the comment box below or email

5.4.7 Arts Center in Greensburg,  Kansas
Photo courtesy Studio 804
Studio 804, a design-build program in the architecture school at the University of Kansas, has completed a number of impressive projects, including the 5.4.7 Arts Center in Greensburg, Kansas.
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BaSiC Initiative is a collaboration of faculty and students from Portland State University and the University of Texas at Austin, which deploys students to work on community-based projects around the world. For information:

The Building Project at Yale University, now in its fifth decade, partners first-year graduate students with nonprofit housing organizations, including Common Ground and Habitat for Humanity. For information:

The Carl Small Town Center at Mississippi State University, which is also several decades old, works with rural communities on policy, research, planning, and, ultimately, design projects. For information:

Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit-Mercy focuses on neighborhood development, facilitating collaboration among residents, community organizations, local government, and private developers. For information:

The Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (GCCDS), another outreach program of Mississippi State University, was born out of the need to rebuild housing and other community amenities in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The GCCDS engages local government, nonprofit organizations, nearby universities, private developers, and other partners. For information:

The Howard S. Wright Neighborhood Design/Build Studio is a flagship program of the University of Washington Department of Architecture. In operation for nearly 25 years, students partner on design/build projects for Seattle-area nonprofits, gaining hands-on experience and interaction with clients, communities, and public agencies. For information:

The Rural Studio, Auburn University’s acclaimed design/build program has transformed and raised expectations within Alabama’s Hale County over the past two decades, with its projects growing in size, scope, quantity, and quality. The Rural Studio’s Outreach Program welcomes students and graduates from outside Auburn University, culminating in a certificate. For information:

Studio 804 at the University of Kansas focuses on research, design, and development of sustainably designed structures, including single-family homes and other urban amenities. It engages students to build a single structure per year, either for a specific client or on spec for sale. For information:

The Tulane City Center at Tulane University in New Orleans hosts the School of Architecture’s applied urban research and outreach programs. The City Center was established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to aid in rebuilding and recovery. Much of its work involves community design/build projects, including single-family homes and other urban amenities. For information:

The University of Arkansas Community Design Center focuses on community and creative development in rural and urban areas of Arkansas, through education, research, and design. For information:


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