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When Small Town Studio looks at small rural towns in Kansas, they don’t see a “dying town;” they see an opportunity to bring new life and updated design to these Kansas communities. This graduate architecture studio was created by K-State associate professor of architecture Todd Gabbard. Since then, the Small Town Studio has worked in towns such as Blue Rapids, Colby, Pittsburg and most prominently Eureka, Kansas.
“In 2010, locals referred to Eureka as a ‘dying town,’ not with anger or sadness, but with an eerie resolve,” said Larry Coleman, director of the Bluestem Arts Initiative in Eureka. “We met with Small Town Studio, and they accepted the challenge of an in-depth study of our community. They brought with them a wealth of knowledge, unbridled enthusiasm and an unstoppable energy.”
The two goals of the year-long studio are to provide underserved rural communities with architecture visioning and design services, and for students to experience real-world dynamics such as community and client interaction, consensus building and project management skills.
“Student work in the earlier years is deliberately abstract, and as a graduate-level sequence, the studio requires students to develop projects that address existing problems, conduct research, form consensus, and deliver both a design and a strategy to help move the project forward,” Gabbard said.
Coleman, after working with Small Town Studio, said it had inspired him to create the Bluestem Arts Initiative in Eureka to provide support services to Small town Studio and as a tool to reach out to other communities who could use the services.
Projects created by the Small Town Studio most visible in Eureka are the McCoy Family Pavilion at Founders Park, the mobile bench program, M gallery, a wetlands learning laboratory at Marshall Elementary School and the Eureka Studio Community Design Center.