Once Upon a Time


Great design, like all stories usually begin with a little hutzpah, a middle that requires a lot of creative heart and an ending that causes you to want to read the next in the series – here are three design stories worth telling and learning from.

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Rural Studio

In 1993, the Auburn University program, co-founded by Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, developed a design-build Studio, teaching architectural students social responsibility while providing inspirational residential-civic structures to the poor communities of West Alabama’s Black Belt. In all, the Studio has built 80+ structures as a means of providing shelter to an underserved population while promoting sustainable design, through recycling, reusing and remaking.

The impressive structures include a house built using carpet tile samples as exterior walls, a chapel made of discarded tires, a solar powered agricultural farm, youth centers, bridges, a fire station and craft houses built for (under) $20K. Students are required to raise money and participate in the work as part of their learning, an aspect of the program that has made this Birmingham based program an international draw for many seeking an architectural degree. The avant-garde program is a catalyst for the University to promote ethics and innovation, and it is a success story that highlights how great design ideas can benefit everyone involved.


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Frederick Law Olmstead

Born in 1822, Frederick Law Olmstead held several jobs up until he turned 35 years old including; apprentice seaman, merchant and journalist giving him a chance to travel abroad extensively. Olmstead was raised in a home that instilled the love of nature and in that appreciation he sought out European formal gardens in his travels, recognizing missing elements he shared his thoughts with New York Architect friend Calvert Vaux. Olmstead and Vaux partnered in a competition to design New York City’s Central Park as an attempt to combat the cities health issues due primarily to overcrowding. They won the park commission and the desire to build landscaped parks as an escape from urban life was born in America. His designs included what he would later term as: Pastoral and Picturesque, having a ‘Genius of the Place’ ideals that have been replicated in city landscapes around the world today.

The results of Central Park and another NYC project, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, provided greater design opportunities, such as: The Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the Capital grounds in Washington DC, Buffalo and Boston’s (Emerald Necklace) park systems. These successful sculpted earth moves allowed him to champion the conservation movement and promote the creation of National Parks, earning him the title of The Father of American Landscape Architects. Proving that talents and life experiences lend well to discover the next great design idea and the story can unfold for many future generations to enjoy.

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Columbus, IN

Columbus, Indiana is located in the heart of soybean country, but is commonly referred to as the Art and Architecture mecca because of the foresight of J. Irwin Miller, the CEO of Cummins diesel engine manufacturing company. Miller offered to pay design fees as an incentive to attract famous Artists and Architects to design the small town’s civic buildings and spaces post WWII. The vision of the growing city (population at the time approx. 12,000 at the time) to provide civic commissions to; Eliel and Eero Saarinens, IM Pei, Ceaser Pelli, Richard Meier and Robert Venturi as well as Artists and Landscape Architects; Henri Moore, Dale Chihuly and Michael Van Valkenburgh (and many more), has paid in spades breaking ground, attracting domestic and international tourist dollars to the “Athens on the Prairie”.

The city is now home to approximately 47,000 people and has become a magnet for those wanting to see how a city can be a blank canvas for the arts. It is a story of how a great design move can pay for itself and how creative works can attract people, business and be a footstool for growth. As the story continues to be told we look forward to seeing how this small city on the plain grows into its big thinking beginnings.


At LLM we see design as a tool to make a difference in lives as a positive impact in telling a client’s story and how great design can; benefit who you are, so what you do can be enjoyed and your business can grow from the Parti to …





Posted on January 18, 2017 in Design, Education, Journal, Places, Team

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