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Third Year Student Develop Sustainable Design Initiatives for Alabama Community of Gees Bend.

Student proposal for Gees Bend Community Center

The Alabama Design Summit was organized in Partnership with AIGA, the professional association for design, and AL Innovation Engine as part of AIGA’s new social innovation initiative called “Design for Good.”  Engine worked with AIGA to test the design summit concept as a means to provide local leaders with an opportunity to work together to improve their communities. (  As a pilot program for future regional design summits, business leaders, design professionals and academics were invited to gather in Birmingham, Alabama in July of 2011.  Auburn’s Sheri Schumacher, Associate Professor of Architecture/Interior Architecture, was included as an invited participant.

At the Alabama Design Summit, Professor Schumacher met and collaborated with business leader and Alabama native Steve Cox, co-founder of International Expeditions. They discovered a mutual interest in providing an infrastructure for tourism within the state, with the intent that tourism can assist with rebuilding communities.  Professor Schumacher specifically discussed the rural community of Gee’s Bend, and due to interest in the community in recent years, defined it as a community that would benefit from educational tourism.
 Gee’s Bend, a small community of about 700 residents, is located on a peninsula in a bend of the Alabama River in southwest Alabama. The community has gained widespread attention for the work of its quilters, recognized most recently through a nationwide exhibition of seventy Gee’s Bend quilts launched in 2002 that transformed the art world. The remarkable quilt making tradition in Gee’s Bend has made it a destination point for visitors from around the world.  Professor Schumacher has personally initiated a workshop program for the area to encourage people interested in crafting heritage and quilting history and to work alongside the quilters, but the community struggles to accommodate visitors.

Schumachercrafted a Third Year Architecture Studio to work with the community of Gees Bend, to develop potential design solutions for local projects that would, as she explains, “address innovative and sustainable design initiatives and activities that aim to improve the social, economic and cultural conditions of the underserved Gee’s Bend, Alabama community,”Students provided solutions for a Gee’s Bend Learning Center for the study of quilting, as well as Visitor Housing and Community Regeneration opportunities located in the existing vacant Boykin School building  and the Gee’s Bend Park. The students’ design proposals aimed to communicate the compelling cultural and social history of the community for future educational travel groups visiting Gee’s Bend and to encourage economic development as a method of increasing the benefits of local assets.  

Through the Alabama Design Summit, AIGA and AL Innovation Engine provided the framework for the interested participants to collaborate on the current long-term and multilayered effort to re-build Gee’s Bend, and Engine exists to provide support to projects and initiatives of this sort across the state.