Published: The News & Observer, October 27, 2004
Dudley Price and Jack Hagel;
Studio may advance Raleigh revival
RALEIGH -- N.C. State University's College of Design is planning
an urban design studio in downtown that supporters say could give
redevelopment an unprecedented boost.
Scheduled to open in February in a two-story building at 133 S.
Wilmington St., the Downtown Design Studio will be home each semester
to two dozen undergraduate and graduate students and professors.
The students will study innovative ways to renovate buildings, sign
systems, pedestrian seating, urban art and infill housing.
Margaret Mullen, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, a
booster organization, said design schools have established similar
classrooms nationally with significant results.
"They typically are the leaders on the front end of urban
renewal in every major city in the country," Mullen said. "Not
only do we need their intellectual capacity ... but we need the
message that it sends to the rest of the country about what is happening
In other cities, a university presence downtown has sparked residential,
retail and office development.
In Providence, R.I., Johnson & Wales University and the Rhode
Island School of Design helped revitalize the city's main business
district with classrooms, dormitories, studio space and offices.
And in Savannah, Ga., the Savannah College of Art and Design opened
a downtown office and ended up buying and restoring buildings "no
one else would touch," Mullen said. The school also has grown
from about a dozen buildings to more than 60 to house a student
body of 7,000.
"There was a period when everybody would leave to go home
from work by 6 p.m.," said Beth Reiter, a preservation officer
in Savannah. "And now you have this bustle of students."
Tom Barrie, director of NCSU's school of architecture, said the
university could help Raleigh's downtown in a similar way.
"You get more of what we call a 24-hour city, the more you
get activities downtown," Barrie said. "We aren't 9-to-5.
At the school of architecture, the lights are on all the time."
Downtown supporters say the design studio will feed into the city's
other revitalization efforts. Progress Energy's $100 million mixed-use
project is being finished, and work to open Fayetteville Street
to vehicles and build a new civic center and hotel are scheduled.
More redevelopment is on the horizon, with condo projects, hotels
and retail areas being discussed.
Now, city officials must pay professionals to devise concepts for
urban renewal projects. With the design studio, officials could
benefit from the impartial ideas and suggestions of dozens of architecture,
landscape architecture, graphic and industrial design students.
"They come to learn," Mullen said. "They don't have
a political agenda; they aren't trying to foist their ideas on you.
They're just trying to come up with solutions and figure out new
ways to do things.
"One thing I'd like them to look at is an inexpensive way
to clean up storefronts on Salisbury and Wilmington streets. I can't
pay a professional to do that, but students will do that."
In Phoenix, where Mullen worked previously, Arizona State University
opened a downtown classroom that studied streetscapes, facades and
developed a program to paint murals on blank building walls.
"For me, it's a huge deal," Mullen said.
College of Design Dean Marvin Malecha, who helped get $25,000 in
annual funding from NCSU for the urban classroom, said opening the
downtown site is in keeping with the university's historical land
grant mission to better the surrounding community.
Students "have a responsibility to get in the streets and
work in the problems of the people," Malecha said. The College
of Design does sporadic urban studies for Raleigh and other municipalities,
but taking the classroom downtown will bring a full-time focus,
Malecha credited new NCSU Chancellor James Oblinger and developer
Greg Hatem, who owns the 3,000-square-foot space the university
will lease for the studio a block east of the Wachovia tower.
Malecha had wanted to open a downtown studio for two years and
approached Hatem, one of downtown's largest private landlords and
supporters. Hatem agreed to subsidize rent to match the university's
$25,000, and a deal was struck.
David Stein, an extension planning specialist at the College of
Design, will be the studio's director. The students' first projects
will be to document existing downtown buildings through photography
and suggest ways to create a downtown identity.