Urban Studio

The School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture

Urban Studio

Auburn University’s Center for Architecture and Urban Studies—the Urban Studio—is a teaching and outreach program of Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction. Students are immersed in the extraordinarily rich “laboratory” of downtown Birmingham and work includes professional seminars and studio design projects that typically focus on community development and urban planning.

The Urban Studio’s teaching program is designed to take advantage of the special opportunities inherent in studying in an urban setting. Studio projects include illustrative neighborhood and town master plans as well as designs for public-use buildings in locations with potential for significant urban impact. The program intentionally engages students—across disciplines—in projects where their work has the potential to impact the quality of place beyond the specific limitations of a particular building site. Through this work, students learn how their design interventions can contribute to the development of great places. In addition, the program takes advantage of the opportunities for collaboration with a vibrant urban professional community. 


The Urban Studio has an ongoing commitment to teaching, intern partnerships with local architects, and studio work focused in the city of Birmingham. Our new home in downtown Birmingham is located at 220 20th Street North, the heart of downtown.


Fifth year architecture and interior architecture students spend a full academic year in Birmingham. Admission to the program is competitive and only 15 students are admitted each year. The Urban Studio also hosts selective students seeking dual degrees in Architecture and Planning or Landscape Architecture. Project investigations may also include students studying on main campus in any of the disciplines of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture.


Additionally, this off-campus venue presents exceptional opportunities for advancement of the College’s commitment to outreach and engagement. The Urban Studio’s assets-based approach to community and neighborhood revitalization seeks out projects that can benefit Alabama and offer real-world investigations and learning challenges for our students, faculty, interns and professional partners.  

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The Center for Architecture and Urban Studies was founded in 1991 by Associate Professor Franklin Setzer and Dean Daniel Bennett as a teaching and outreach venue for Auburn's School of Architecture. Professor Setzer was Director of the Center and was assisted in teaching by James Alexander, architect, sculptor and professor at UAB’s art program. Initially, the Center hosted fourth year students in Architecture as well as students in Interior Design. Its first long-term home was on the second and third floors of the old Parisian’s building at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 20th Street—the Birmingham Green. Architecture students were required to spend one quarter in Birmingham. Over time, students petitioned to return to Birmingham for thesis during their fifth year and a limited number of students competed to come to Birmingham. The addition of thesis students expanded the potential for the Center to have an additional full time faculty member and in 1997, Professor Cheryl Morgan moved from main campus to Birmingham. 


In the mid-90’s the Center was actively engaged with many Birmingham projects that have had a long-term impact including: a master-plan for the Lakeview District that led to the Pepper Place Farmer’s Market; studies that advocated and championed the future Railroad Park; and numerous investigations of mid-town housing.


Frank was a founding member of the Tuesday Group—a collection of design professionals who volunteered time every Tuesday to help Birmingham neighborhoods develop affordable housing. The revitalization of Ensley’s Sandy Vista neighborhood in collaboration with BEAT was one of the Group’s most lasting legacies.


Frank was also Executive Director of DesignAlabama and the Center was host to their offices.  In addition to the publication of their quarterly Journal, DesignAlabama developed a community design assistance program that facilitated charrettes in underserved small towns in Alabama. This program left DesignAlabama in 1998 and became the Center’s Small Town Design Initiative.  With the transition of the community assistance program, DA moved from Birmingham to Montgomery where there was a stronger potential for its mission of advocacy for the design professions.


Other significant contributions of the Center under Professors Setzer and Morgan included work to establish Region 2020 and championship of downtown’s loft district. Professor Setzer was a member of the city’s Housing Authority and his expertise and advocacy helped bring Birmingham’s first HUD Hope VI resources for the redevelopment of downtown’s Community Gardens Public Housing Project.  Professor Morgan led a team that helped to shape appropriate architectural character for the project and secured the potential for a Birmingham based architectural firm to take on the final design of what is now Park Place. Subsequent studio work helped the housing authority with a second Hope VI grant for Ensley’s Tuxedo Court neighborhood. 


When Auburn moved from quarters to semesters in the early 2000s it was no longer practical to require all fourth year students to come to Birmingham. In particular, housing and curriculum challenges led to a shift in offerings and in 2004 the Center hosted its last fourth year class. This class participated in a Department of Education grant—FIPSE—that involved student exchange between three US programs (Auburn, Oklahoma State and University of Illinois Chicago) and three programs in Canada and three programs in Mexico. In addition to hosting students from each of the international schools, 12 Auburn students had the opportunity to study for a term in Canada or Mexico.


Professors Setzer and Morgan were founding members of the YourTownAlabama program along with the University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Studies, the Alabama Historical Commission, CAWACO RC&D, and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. This program engages citizen-leaders in an assets-based approach to community revitalization.


Professor Setzer passed away unexpectedly in 2001 and Professor Cheryl Morgan became the full time Director of the Center in 2002. After Frank’s death the Center moved briefly to a storefront in the Wooster Building at First Ave. North and 24th. In 2003, in partnership with Region 2020 and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, the Center moved to the historic Young and Vann Building at First North and 18th Street. 


In 2008, the Center began to use the shorter name of Urban Studio. During that year the Studio also launched a more direct engagement with Birmingham’s professional community with the establishment of a 16-week internship in professional offices.


In 2008, the Studio and University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development (UACED) were asked by the Mississippi-based Montgomery Institute and the Appalachian Regional Commission to work collaboratively on a Department of Labor WIRE grant. Mississippi wanted to emulate YourTownAlabama and the Studio’s Small Town Design Program, as well as DesignAlabama (DA) Mayor’s Summit, a program that Urban Studio had helped DA develop. The scope of the grant geographically bridged—West Alabama and East Mississippi (WAEM) and during this three-year project the Studio worked with 8 Alabama towns, 3 Mississippi towns and assisted Mississippi in establishing YourTownMississippi. The Studio was directly involved in the first two YTM’s known then as WAEMtowns!


In 2009, Urban Studio was invited, along with the Rural Studio and UACED, to the Aspen Design Institute to participate in a Rockefeller Foundation funded AIGA Design for Good Summit. This convening of international designers focused on design-thinking and design-based solutions to “wicked problems.” Other invitees were the Mayo Clinic, UNESCO, and the CDC out of Atlanta. Engagements and partnerships were formed during this workshop that resulted in the creation of Alabama Innovation Engine. Engine was conceived as a partnership between Alabama’s flagship universities Auburn and Alabama with the goal of leveraging design-thinking in the facilitation of impactful regional initiatives for increased economic opportunity across the state. Engine has convened two Design Summits and has been a leader in the creation of the Cahaba River Blueway. Engine is currently working with the Alabama Trails Commission and the redevelopment of the Alabama State Park at Gulf Shores.


As a result of 2011’s tragic tornados that ripped across Alabama, the Urban Studio became actively involved in recovery. Urban Studio hosted and participated in an AIA R/UDAT in October of 2011 for the Pratt City neighborhood of Birmingham, worked closely with FEMA in developing an updated master plan for Cordova, and assisted FEMA in studies in Holt and in north Alabama. In February, 2012, Urban Studio also hosted and facilitated a National Endowment for the Arts Mayors Institute on City Design that included national experts and mayors from Birmingham, Brownsville, TX, Slidell, LA, Hattiesburg, MS, Waxhaw, NC, and Patterson, NJ.


In 2013 AL.com/The Birmingham News acquired a lease for the entire Young and Vann building and Urban Studio moved temporarily to Pepper Place before a move in the summer of 2014 to the historic Porter Building at the corner of Third Avenue North and 20th Street.  Appropriately this new home is in the same block—opposite corners—to Auburn’s first real home in downtown in the old Parisian’s Building!


Professor and Director Cheryl Morgan retired from Auburn in December 2013.  Architect Alex Krumdieck became Interim-Director of the Urban Studio in January 2014. 

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Who can study at Urban Studio?

  • Fifth year architecture and interior architecture students may spend a full academic year in Birmingham.  Admission to the program is competitive and only 15 students are admitted each year. Application to the program is in the spring semester of the student’s 4th year.
  • The Urban Studio also hosts selective students seeking dual degrees in Architecture and Planning or Landscape Architecture.  Applications are reviewed on a case by case basis with the support of the student’s primary program.

How do I apply?

  • Applications include a portfolio and a letter of intent.

How does Urban Studio choose its community projects?  How can my community or project be chosen?

  • Projects must be well aligned with the teaching objectives of Urban Studio and the academic curriculum.
  • Urban Studio projects engage with underserved communities who do not have access to traditional planning services through their regional planning commission or professional planners (Alabama Association of Regional Councils)
  • Contact Urban Studio directly for further information.
  • Urban Studio does charge a fee. We believe good design is worth paying for and communities who cannot find the modest fees charged by Urban Studio will be challenged to accomplish the recommendations of the plan.

Can Urban Studio help my community get engaged with planning/revitalization?

  • Yes! Communities with a plan are more competitive and have a higher potential to leverage their distinct assets. Understanding how planning and good design can help your community is an important part of Urban Studio’s outreach mission. Contact Urban Studio about meeting to discuss the next steps for your town or neighborhood. Workshops like YourTownAlabama and Design Alabama’s Mayor’s Summit are also excellent resources.


How do I participate in YourTownAlabama?


What is a charrette?

  • A charrette is an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers. More importantly, it allows everyone who participates to be a mutual author of the plan.
  • Through brainstorming and design activity, many goals are accomplished during the charrette. First, everyone who has a stake in the project develops a vested interest in the ultimate vision. Second, the design team works together to produce a set of finished documents that address all aspects of design. Third, since the input of all the players is gathered at one event, it is possible to avoid the prolonged discussions that typically delay conventional planning projects. Finally, the finished result is produced more efficiently and cost-effectively because the process is collaborative.


How can my firm get involved in the Urban Studio’s Internship program?

  • Urban Studio welcomes opportunities for students to spend 8 or 16 weeks as a professional intern in our local offices. Internships begin in October and run through early February. Students are paid and work full time in your office accruing IDP credit. Contact Urban Studio in August to join the pool of hosting firms.


How can I be part of an Urban Studio jury or pin-up?

  • Students benefit from the diverse opinions of a multi-disciplinary jury. Please contact Urban Studio for a chance to participate.


What is Design Review? Is it public?

  • The City of Birmingham’s Design Review process works with projects in the city’s historical and commercial revitalization districts. Design Review is under the City of Birmingham’s office of Planning, Engineering and Permits. The meetings are public and are the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 7:30 AM at the Urban Studio.


My child is interested in architecture?  What can he/she do with the Urban Studio?

  • Contact the Urban Studio about setting up a meeting with the director to hear about architecture and the design professions, meet the students and get an idea about what it means to study and become an architect.
  • Design camps are offered through the School of Architecture in the summer. For more information, click here.
  • dreamArchitecture is a community outreach program sponsored by AIA Birmingham and the Birmingham Architectural Foundation. Open to kindergarten through 5th grade students in the greater Birmingham area, the contest encourages children to think about the built environment. 
  • ACE Mentor Program of Alabama is is a unique partnership among architecture, design and construction professionals who mentor high school students to introduce them to the professions and encourage them to pursue studies and careers in these fields. The industry gets a boost of new talent, and high school students are exposed to a possible career path.  

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Hosting the Design Review Committee and their bi monthly public meetings as part of the City of Birmingham’s Department of Planning Engineering and Permits


REV Birmingham

Regional Planning Commission

Other examples of how Urban Studio has served the City of Birmingham include:

  • Serving on Woodlawn Arts Incubator Steering Committee
  • Serving on Red Mountain Park Steering Committee
  • Hosing ULI City Center charrette and exhibiting report material
  • Hosting UDA City Center charrette
  • Hosting AIA R/UDAT for Pratt City post April 2011 tornadoes
  • Serving on Operation New Birmingham Community Board
  • Partnering in Birmingham Historic Society Buddy Up program
  • Partnering with Region 2020 and the Regional Planning Commission in the Center for Regional Planning and Design
  • Hosting various symposia, lectures and workshops for the professional community and public
  • Exhibiting work of local architecture, landscape and development projects

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The Small Town Design Initiative (STDI) was founded in 1998 by Franklin Setzer to assist civic leaders and citizens in small towns in preserving those things that made their towns special while preparing for revitalization, growth and improved quality of life.

  • STDI has worked with over seventy-five small towns and communities across the state. Helping communities identify these positive assets can be the basis of a sound master plan for physical and economic vitality and helps create a better place to live.
  • Most of the illustrative master plan posters designed for STDI are on Auburn University’s Digital Library site.

YourTownAlabama was founded in 1998. This organization provides assets-based planning workshops for citizen leaders across the state. The goal is to cultivate leadership that understands the value of planning, knows where and how to find technical assistance and expertise and has the confidence to take action on a local level.  Over 1000 Alabamians have attended YourTown!


Birmingham Projects

The Urban Studio has worked on the following project-specific studies:  

  • Lakeview District master plan
  • College Hills / Graymont neighborhood revitalization plan
  • Norwood neighborhood master plan
  • Ensley neighborhood design studies
  • Woodlawn neighborhood design studies
  • Avondale neighborhood housing study
  • Clairmont Avenue walking trail study
  • Railroad Reservation Park design studies
  • Hope VI Park Place and Marconi Park studies
  • Midtown housing studies
  • UAB 15th Street quad
  • Sloss Furnace master plan preliminary studies

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Alex Krumdieck, Interim Director and Instructor

Alex is a principal in the Birmingham-based architecture and interior design firm Krumdieck A + I, which has earned numerous awards for its design work, including recognition by the AIA and the IIDA. Krumdieck earned a Bachelor of Architecture from Auburn, and a Master of Architecture from Georgia Tech. He has served as an adjunct instructor several times in recent years, including teaching roles on Auburn’s main campus and at the Urban Studio. Recently, Krumdieck designed the newly opened Alabama Center for Architecture in Birmingham, Alabama.


Current Adjuncts


Cheryl Morgan, FAIA

Cheryl is a licensed architect and Emerita Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture of Auburn University.  In thirty years of teaching she worked with architectural programs at Georgia Institute of Technology, Oklahoma State and California College of Arts and Crafts.  For the last 12 years of her teaching career she was the Director of Auburn’s Urban Studio in Birmingham, Alabama. Under Cheryl’s leadership, the Urban Studio’s Small Town Design Initiative Program worked with over 75 small towns and neighborhoods in Alabama. 


Morgan practiced architecture and urban design in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She worked with a number of firms including Environmental Planning and Research, Gensler, and the Gruzen Partnership.  Before coming to Auburn in 1992 she was an associate with the Berkeley firm of ELS/Elbasani and Logan.  Morgan’s professional practice now focuses on urban design, community planning and graphic design. She is also an experienced facilitator.


Cheryl holds two degrees from Auburn University: a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology).  Her Master of Architecture degree is from the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana.  She is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and is a member and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.


In 2011 she was presented with the Alabama Chapter of the American Planning Association’s Distinguished Leadership Award recognizing her as a  “Friend of Planning.“ In 2012 she received Auburn University’s Achievement in Outreach Award.



Ben Wieseman, Director of Catalytic Development for REV Birmingham

Ben holds a Master of Real Estate Development degree from Auburn University and is also trained and licensed as a Landscape Architect in the state of Alabama. In addition, Ben is a certified planner with the American Planning Association and also holds a certificate with the United States Green Building Council as a LEED AP professional.



Kris Nikolich, AIA Partner, Design Initiative


Bill Segrest, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, Williams Blackstock Architects 


Kyle D’agostino, Vice President, Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio, Inc.

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The new site for the Urban Studio in downtown Birmingham is being designed and once renovated will be an urban center for Auburn University. In addition to architecture students, other programs in CADC will be able to have students and studio work here, including planning, landscape architect students and more.


CADC's Campaign Website

To give, please indicate "Urban Studio" in the gift designation box.


Urban Studio Build Out Plan


Check back here for updates on the building progress.

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Auburn Urban Studio

Physical address:

221 20th Street North
Birmingham, AL 35203


On the South East corner of 3rd Avenue North


Mailing address:

P.O. Box 1627

Birmingham, AL 35201



Urban Studio Facebook


Phone: 205.323.3592
Fax: 205.323.8385

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Design camps are offered through the School of Architecture in the summer. For more information, click here.

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Alex Krumdieck

Alex Krumdieck

Interim Director of Urban Studio