A Brief History of Urban Studio

Urban Studio in Birmingham, Alabama

Urban Studio is a teaching and outreach program in the architecture program at Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC). Located in Birmingham, Alabama, and founded in 1991 by Associate Professor Franklin Setzer and CADC Dean Dan Bennett, Urban Studio was originally called the Center for Architecture and Urban Studies. Professor Cheryl Morgan moved to the center from Auburn’s campus in 1997 and became executive director when Setzer unexpectedly passed in 2002. Upon Morgan’s retirement in 2013, Architect Alex Krumdieck became Director of Urban Studio. The purpose of the studio is to give architecture students hand-on experience with community development and urban planning in downtown Birmingham.

Over the years, Urban Studio has been involved with numerous key projects in Birmingham’s growth and development, among them Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, Railroad Park and mid-town housing opportunities. The center helped to found the Your Town Alabama program, which engages local leaders in an assets-based approach to community revitalization. In response to the devastating tornadoes in 2011, Urban Studio hosted an AIA Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) for Pratt City and worked closely with FEMA in completing studies of the impacted areas. In 2012, the center hosted and facilitated a National Endowment for the Arts Mayors’ Institute on City Design. Urban Studio’s current projects focus on work in the city of Birmingham while continuing charrette work with Design Alabama in its Design Vision Program. The studio’s Birmingham focus has led to outreach projects being completed in areas like Avondale, Woodlawn, Smithfield and McLendon Park.

From 1998–2013 Urban Studio’s outreach mission developed the Small Town Design Initiative program. Students, interns and volunteer professionals engaged with over 75 towns and communities in assets-based planning and revitalization recommendations and visions.

The Center originally hosted fourth year architecture and interior design students, with architecture students being required to spend an academic quarter in Birmingham. Over time participation shifted to thesis and third year architecture students. Currently, 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. Third year students have the option of spending the fall semester at the Studio.

Building strong relationships with practicing architects, planners and landscape architects was one of the founding goals of Urban Studio. In 2008 an internship was initiated to pair fifth year students with professional offices across the city. Working full-time during part of their year in Birmingham interns gained valuable hands-on professional experience and first-hand knowledge of the practice of architecture.

Urban Studio has moved several times. Its first long-term home was in the old Parisian’s building at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 20th Street. Then it moved to the Young and Vann building located on the southwest corner of 1st avenue North and 18th Street. In 2013, 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 as the center’s first real home in the old Parisian’s building. For its next phase, Urban Studio will be the principal occupant of Auburn’s Hood McPherson building in Birmingham, which will also house students, faculty and alumni from other CADC and Auburn programs and offices.

Related people:
Alex Krumdieck