SDC students are working to revitalize small towns in Washington — one idea at a time.

From Darrington to Mattawa, students and faculty in the Rural Communities Design Initiative (RCDI) work to highlight features that help communities thrive.

RCDI is a collaborative effort between WSU design disciplines in the School of Design and Construction, WSU Extension, and rural community partners throughout the Pacific Northwest. RCDI promotes economic prosperity in small, rural communities through community engagement and participatory design, pairing design students and faculty in architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, and construction management with rural communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“Small towns have been among the communities most severely impacted by a changing economy,” said RCDI co-director Kathleen Ryan, clinical assistant professor of interior design. “But people still want to live and do business there.

“We help bring out the community voice,” Ryan added. “We work with communities to find what they think is important, and use design to show them what their cities can be. It helps them make decisions and focus their energies.”

Students in front of White Horse Mountain. From left to right: Chucky Vallejo, architecture; Tyler Reid, Collin Schweikl, Philip VanDevanter, landscape architecture; Taylor Lynch, architecture.
Students in front of White Horse Mountain. From left to right: Chucky Vallejo, architecture; Tyler Reid, Collin Schweikl, Philip VanDevanter, landscape architecture; Taylor Lynch, architecture.

SDC students have completed more than 30 community design projects since RCDI’s inception in 2010. The current group is helping the growing community of Mattawa create an inviting, pedestrian-friendly downtown; working with the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe to envision an expanded and improved Tribal village near Darrington, Wash.; and designing a lakeside trail system, parks and sidewalks for Electric City.

Recent projects include a community center and commercial kitchen in Rosalia; a visitor center and geology exhibit in LaCrosse, Wash.; downtown revitalization in Pateros; a community creativity center in Moscow, Idaho; a Colfax historic walking tour as well as dining, lodging, urban gardens and event spaces at Colfax’s historic former St. Ignatius Hospital.

“Working with RCDI helped me learn how to brainstorm design solutions that fit a community’s needs and wants,” said landscape architecture student Tyler Reid. He helped lead the design gathering, or charette, for the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, where residents shared ideas for students to develop into proposals. WSU Extension and the WSU Division of Governmental Services were involved in planning, and facilitating the workshop.

“Students work on real sites with real people, on projects that may quickly become reality,” said Robert Krikac, co-director and associate professor of interior design.

“It’s fascinating to see the confidence and growth that they develop,” said Ryan. “It’s rewarding to see that what we do at the university can have a direct impact on our small towns. That speaks to our land-grant university heritage, developing new knowledge and bringing it to the wider community.”

“It’s a great feeling,” added Krikac.