Campus News

Design Studio Winchester is Visionary Town and Gown Collaboration

Front window of the Winchester Design Studio
Interior of the Winchester Design Studio

WINCHESTER, Ky. (Aug. 29, 2019) — Design Studio Winchester, a collaboration between the University of Kentucky and the City of Winchester, seeks to address the question: is a town made up of its artifacts or its citizens? The new studio, which combines design and community development in one space, respects the artifacts and empowers citizens.

A place-based satellite studio where students and faculty can immerse themselves in projects that arise from real-life issues in a particular community was a concept that began in the UK College of Design. Louisville’s Portland neighborhood has been home to its first design studio for approximately three years. The Winchester site, in a storefront at 11 South Main St., is the College of Design’s second studio, but this time, a partnership with the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment expands the concept to include community engagement and economic development opportunities.

“We are trying to provide community- and issues-embedded experiences for our students,” said Mitzi Vernon, dean of the College of Design. “Among all the other obvious benefits, this allows the College of Design to bring contemporary definition to the land-grant mission of the university.”

In developing the Winchester site, the College of Design collaborated with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, specifically with the college’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky. Representatives from both colleges worked closely with the Winchester government and business community to make the studio a reality.

“We want to extend this over a number of years, so we build relationships and understand the communities and find ways to collaborate,” said Jeffrey Johnson, director of the UK School of Architecture.

In its extensive work helping local economies thrive, the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky has been exploring options for place-based studios in smaller communities, so this particular collaborative effort fit well with CEDIK’s mission. Design Studio Winchester will serve as a pilot to determine what it takes to make such sites successful.

“Winchester has tremendous capacity and community support and motivation,” said Alison Davis, director of CEDIK and agricultural economics professor. “They have a lot of design professionals in the community. The community leaders work really well together. Our theory is, if it’s not going to work in Winchester, it’s not going to work anywhere else.”

The site will include design space for UK students and faculty, but it will also somewhat act as an incubator for local businesses and organizations. The Bluegrass Small Business Development Center, part of UK’s Kentucky Small Business Development Center, has already hosted two workshops and will hold office hours every other Tuesday to meet with and advise small-business owners and potential entrepreneurs. Clark County Extension will offer programming in the space as well. There are also plans to use part of the site as a “maker space” for youth and adults, with 3D printers and other types of design tools available for the public.

Associate Professor Anthony Roccanova in the College of Design conceived of having place-based design studios almost 30 years ago when he wrote a proposal titled, “Architecture and Town Design in a Democratic Society.” He is ecstatic that it is coming to fruition in Winchester.

“I could see that the way we were dealing with big cities is not appropriate for small towns,” he said. “The point is that designers and the town have to work in a participatory way; that was the idea of the democratic aspect (in the proposal); that this has to come as a result of working intimately with these towns.”

Working closely with communities and finding funding is exactly the type of expertise the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky brings to the table.

“This is truly a cross-college initiative, and I think what made it so special is that the College of Design is really bringing some wonderful student opportunities that can certainly benefit the community, and CEDIK is grounding that work to ensure that it aligns with the community’s preferences and needs,” Davis said.

Rachel Alexander, executive director of Main Street Winchester, said people are thrilled to have a UK presence in the town.

“We’re excited about collaborating with so many new partners. To see how everyone is working together and feeding off each other’s ideas has been extraordinary,” she said. “Each partner in the space brings valuable expertise and resources to the table. And to have fresh eyes and fresh ideas each semester as new students take on projects is a unique opportunity for our community. We’re going to learn a lot from this experience.”

The mix of design and economic development in a single space promises to add a great deal to the experiences of students and community members.

“Design Studio Winchester is a proof-of-concept for how the university can engage with communities on several levels around small town revitalization,” said Dean Nancy Cox of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “To work hand-in-hand with the College of Design and the City of Winchester on making this idea a success is a perfect example of some of the many benefits to the Commonwealth that a land-grant university offers.”

The College of Design includes the schools of Architecture, Interiors, Historic Preservation and Urban and Environmental Design. Other departments and centers within the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment that are collaborating on the pilot project are the Department of Landscape Architecture, Kentucky Small Business Development Center and the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Winchester agencies and organizations involved in the development of Design Studio Winchester include Main Street Winchester, the city’s Economic Development Authority, the Winchester Chamber of Commerce, Winchester-Clark County Tourism Commission and the mayor’s office.