The Studio was founded by the late Franklin Setzer, associate
professor of architecture, in 1991. Setzer, along with CADC Dean
Daniel Bennett conceived a place for students of architecture
to be immersed in an urban environment, in direct and engaged
contact with practicing professionals and in active pursuit of
the design of great places.
"It is unusual for architectural students to work beyond
the scale of a building and think about how their architectural
work is part of the larger ensemble of a place," said Cheryl
Morgan, the Studio's director. "One of the things that we
think is important is the potential for students to not only understand
how to make great buildings, but how to make great places."
Urban Studio students have worked on several projects around Birmingham
including in the Ensley, Woodlawn and Rosedale communities as
well as the Birmingham Historical Society's Buddy-Up Program.
Midtown Housing, Railroad Reservation Park, Sloss Furnaces Master
Plan, Lakeview and Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard in-fill are
a few of the other projects the Urban Studio has been involved
with through the years.
In addition to its work with the City of Birmingham, the Urban
Studio has partnered with more than 40 small towns (map) and communities
across the state to help them recognize their potential and establish
a vision for the future. Through his work with Design Alabama,
a consortium dedicated to effective community design, Setzer was
instrumental in forging the Urban Studio's sense of responsibility
and possibility in working with these communities. He founded
the Small Town Design Initiative in 1998 to assist civic leaders
and citizens in small towns in preserving those things that made
their towns special while preparing for revitalization, growth
and improved quality of life. With regional planning commissions
stretched to their limits and most communities not in a position
to hire professional planners, Setzer saw a new outreach opportunity
for the Urban Studio. Since that time, the Studio has worked with
these communities to develop long-range visions and strategic
plans for revitalization.
"It is amazing to see the students catch the spirit of the
community and work with real people in real towns and having the
sense of their work making a difference," Morgan said. "The
communities are always responsive to the students and their ideas
and that for us makes it very special because it is not something
you might see in a typical design studio course."
Setzer and Morgan took the Small Town Design Initiative a step
further by helping to found YourTownAlabama, an organization
that provides leadership training workshops for citizen leaders
across the state. To date, YourTownAlabama has held 16 workshops
with more than 500 citizen leaders from 100 towns and counties.
The organization's goal is to cultivate leadership that understands
the value of planning, knows where and how to find technical assistance
and expertise and has the confidence to take action on a local
Through these efforts, Urban Studio maintains its ongoing commitment
to work with communities to identify those positive assets that
can be the basis of a sound master plan for physical and economic
vitality - creating distinctive opportunities for building a higher
quality of life, broader prospects in the community and a better
place to live.