Projects completed by the Lab for Urban and Social Innovation are directed by each individual design challenge. Through workshops, design studios, design charettes, funded research and consulting services we have completed projects addressing urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, geodesign, interior design, and historic preservation for more than 15 years.
Through cooperation and collaboration between industry partners, community representatives, design professionals, faculty and students, we are able to empower students to make a positive impact in our city and world as they participate in real-world projects that encourage active, collaborative education—what we call Nexus Learning. This pedagogy shapes projects with communities and industry partners and academia, improving the social, economic and ecological health through innovations in the built environment.
Our projects have included:
- Urban design strategies for healthy and sustainable neighborhoods
- Architectural design in the public-interest
- Research and schematic design of community and regional greenways, parks, and low-impact transportation systems
- Research and schematic design of affordable housing projects
- Research and schematic design of energy efficient, environmentally resilient buildings
- Restoration and adaptive re-use of public buildings and public spaces
- Research and documentation of historical buildings, structures, and places
Nicetown Neighborhood, Philadelphia, PA
The University was contacted by The Center for Returning Citizens (TCRC), in conjunction with the Second Baptist Church of Nicetown, to design a children’s edible garden. This design would utilize the backyard of the Second Baptist Church, and potentially expand into the lot of 3833 Germantown Avenue.
Our Concept for the site is to provide a space to educate children on growing fresh food and to bring together the community. Landscape architecture students hosted focus groups with community members and children to understand the needs of the community, and presented designs throughout the entire project.
Students designed a space where…
- Children can interact with and learn through the natural systems in their environment
- The church congregation and surrounding community share a peaceful garden space
- Users can grow fresh food and interact with nature.
Kingsessing Neighborhood, Philadelphia, PA
Kingsessing existed before the city Philadelphia and means, “Place where there is a meadow”. A great deal has changed in this neighborhood over time, and the meadows have been almost completely replaced by residential housing, leaving little space for the people of the community to enjoy their neighborhood. The goal is to bring back the ecological history of Kingsessing and create usable community spaces through the establishment of an urban meadow.
The meadows would be inherently community based from start to finish. Through annual plantings, residents are encouraged to be creative and take ownership of the spaces. The lots at 61st and Reinhard serve as a catalyst for the rest of the neighborhood—establishment of a successful meadow here could be replicated throughout the community.
- Students identified the following needs in the Kingsessing community:
- Create simply beautiful spaces
- Provide ecological education opportunities
- Create a brand for the Kingsessing neighborhood
- Create, define, and activate spaces throughout the neighborhood
- Improve community unity through this project/process
Mantua & Belmont Neighborhoods, Philadelphia, PA
Mantua and Belmont neighborhoods are located in Western Philadelphia and present great opportunities for revitalization. The area was chosen as the site for the 2016 Better Philadelphia Challenge to promote progress and intelligent design throughout Philadelphia.
Landscape architecture students worked with the community to determine the best solution for re-introducing ‘nature’ into the urban environment.
Students conceptualized a neighborhood wither human-nature engages and connects. Returning wild areas to the Mantua and Belmont communities, natural spaces weave through the neighborhood like the stream that once flowed there. By blurring the line between urban and natural space, people are to nature, building a new paradigm for rising urban communities. Every family will live within a two-minute walk of a natural environment that inspires wonder and curiosity.
Creating this space, however, requires contiguous land where ecological succession is possible. Connecting the vacancies in Mantua into larger parcels presents a unique opportunity to accomplish this. Human-nature syncs the mind and body as well as connecting communities, people, and culture; weaving them amongst a natural tapestry and creating a city like no other.
Bala Cynwyd, PA
Cynwyd Elementary is a K-5 school in Bala Cynwyd, PA, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Cyywyd School is renovating their current library to include a “makerspace” to accommodate the multitude of activities their students create as they explore the STEM curriculum. The students created a collaborative, active environment that can be adapted to allow a wide variety of activities.
- Students provided a temporary floor plan that accommodates the furniture that is currently on order.
- Students designed a creative “makerspace” within the budget, giving vision to the needs and goals of the school’s faculty and students.
- Provided design drawings to raise money to fund the project.
Thomas Mifflin Elementary School, East Falls, PA
Thomas Mifflin is a small school in the East Falls neighborhood with a family atmosphere. The school houses approximately 300 students in Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade. In recent years Thomas Mifflin has been looking to update their image and their brand. An integral component of this shift is to paint the corridors of the school, including an old and worn existing mural.
The students designed and installed a mural that communicated the school’s mission, goals and commitment to the community.
- Inspirational images and quotes for design
- Elevations of mural wall or perspectives of mural
- Plan for installation, including how mural would be broken down and shared among 14 students
- Time frame calculation
- List of supplies (types of paints, amounts, brushes, drop clothes, etc.)
- Budget for supplies
East Falls, PA
The Old Academy Players is a non-profit community theater established in 1923 and located in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. Over the past few years The Old Academy has updated their dressing rooms, intermission room, kitchen and bathrooms. The students designed lobby updates for the 195-year-old building.
- Plans showing extent of lobby make-over
- Perspectives showing the interior make-over
- Interior elevations
- Specified furniture and accessories with pricing
A former gateway to the Roebling Mill, the main gate museum building once served as the passage point for thousands of workers on their way to the steel mill each day. The building served as the hub of company activity. Offices processed payroll, time clocks, storage rooms, interview rooms, a jail house, phone operators, an infirmary and later an ambulance house. Originally only a gate in 1905, the building was built in 1907 to limit access to the factory grounds. Additions and alterations were made from 1919 through 1947.
The main entrance to the Roebling Museum was in need of a makeover to provide a welcoming and functional entry point to the gallery beyond. It required students to design a cohesively united entry to the rest of the building; one that acted as a connection between the town and factory.
- Plan of the entrance
- Perspectives of the entrance
- Interior elevations of the lobby
- Furniture and accessories
- Specifications for furniture and accessories with pricing
Fifth-year architecture students collaborated with graduate occupational therapy students and Project H.O.M.E. to design and build improvements to Women of Change Safe Haven, which serves chronically homeless and seriously mentally ill women in Philadelphia.
The goal was to improve conditions for 25 chronically homeless women, creating installations for the sleeping dorm, community room and medical area of the facility. Students created transitional living booths, furniture, and a multi-use collapsible exam table in order to maximize space and comfort for residents, especially during times of increased occupancy such as code blue situations.