Community Design Research Center (CDRC)

Charlottesville, VA is a twelve-thousand-student college town of just under 45,000 people. It is a two-hour drive to Washington DC and an hour to Richmond. It is the home of the University of Virginia and is famous for many things, including Thomas Jefferson’s design of its core campus. Nearby, the grounds of his mountain-top plantation, mansion, and rebuilt slave quarters.

Design centers have developed over the last half-century, the most prevalent and lasting are centers associated with a university. The belief that a student’s relationship with ordinary people and community leaders in need of help that a designer can provide is a good thing. The design center at UVA puts it this way

The Community Design Research Center (CDRC) dedicated to [re]shaping communities to be healthy, resilient, and generative. It was founded in 2013 to push “the boundaries of design and planning—using transdisciplinary design research and practice to address the wicked problems facing the 21st century”.

The CDRC is pioneering on-the-ground research strategies that advance collaborative thinking and nurture systems for transferability and scalability of proven prototypes to advance this goal. The CDRC works toward preventing and solving systemic challenges through “place”.

The last posting was dated 2015. It mentions, a UVAs Community Design Lab project in partnership with the CDRC and the Cameron Foundation. See Facebook page (here) for more.

The UVA center’s origin begins with the Charlottesville Community Design Center. Support from a nonprofit housing group (here) and a grant from Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (here) enabled its service to design during its tenure.  A Design Marathon was a major project aimed at the community’s approach to design. In the marathon session, the project paired designers with ten local nonprofits to consider design in branding, brochures, advertisements, and the production of schematic conceptual site plans for new buildings and renovations. The exhibit closed in August of 2011.

In contrast, the Charlottesville Community Design Center described itself as a Charlottesville-based organization that “uses the design process as a tool to help citizens create options for making the Charlottesville region a healthier, more equitable and beautiful community.”


The Report has questions.

Design centers are often created by professors as a teaching tool and by private firms hungry for new commissions. In the review of participants in The Report not only is this a condition that can be examined from multiple viewpoints, but it is also in many ways a reasonable response to market conditions and community needs. However, one criticism remains.

Where is the thinking and support for a sustained nonprofit institution by city, region, or state with a strict focus on comprehensive design services and the needs of its most vulnerable populations? As of now, the words in both mission and vision statements remain hollow.