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Reuniting and Recognizing the Architects of the R/UDAT and Collaborative

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By Mary Ellen Yuhas Hagner

The 20th anniversary celebration of the Community Design Collaborative in February brought warm memories.  Around the room I saw so many familiar faces from the earliest days of the Collaborative—Alice Berman AIA, Alice Dommert AIA, Anita Toby Lager ASLA, Robert Shamble AIA, Scott Kalner AIA, Robin Kohles AIA, and of course, Sally Harrison AIA, Emanuel Kelly AIA, Don Matzkin AIA and Susan Frankel (apologies to anyone I missed).

The Community Design Collaborative was born in 1991 and to a large degree captured and built upon the spirit of volunteerism exhibited by the Philadelphia design community in the Regional Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) program in 1990.

I joined the Philadelphia architectural community in September 1989 as Operations Director for the R/UDAT in the AIA office.  The charrette focused on the transportation corridors and neighborhoods at the center of North Philadelphia between 8th Street, 22nd Street, York Street, and Allegheny Avenue.

When the eleven-member R/UDAT team arrived in October 1990, it was the culmination of a full year of preparation by a team of approximately 285 local volunteers.  The five-day design charrette began and ended with WHYY-TV providing live coverage of a town meeting at Stanton Elementary School in North Philadelphia and another meeting four days later to present the charrette results.  It is impossible to imagine that happening today.

Sally Harrison AIA, Emanuel Kelly AIA and Fred Foote AIA led the project, coordinating the work of the Steering Committee that included City, State and Federal officials, North Philadelphia community residents, its business and institutional leaders, and design professionals.  During the design charrette many other professionals joined the volunteer work force working from Saturday morning through Sunday night to produce hand drawings and narrative for the 60-page final report that was distributed to the audience at the final meeting.

For a year after the R/UDAT Sally Harrison and Emanuel Kelly met with the North Philadelphia community leaders to support their efforts to remain organized and press for neighborhood revitalization. Simultaneously, many R/UDAT alumni—architects, landscape architects, graphic designers and planners--joined by other colleagues held meetings to find a way to promote community revitalization by offering pro bono pre-design services to the community.  I remember lively crowded meetings in Don Matzkin’s second floor office at Chestnut and 20th Street that gave birth to the Collaborative.

The area that we focused on for the R/UDAT is still a work in progress, but now has the new retail and housing that residents envisioned back in 1990.  The historic North Philadelphia train station, a then-deteriorated neighborhood anchor whose potential was considered in the R/UDAT, has been renovated as part of Station Center. And further development for the area is outlined the master plan for Avenue of the Arts North.

When we put together the R/UDAT for Philadelphia over twenty years ago, we were focused on a better future for Central North Philadelphia.  We didn’t anticipate that another outcome of our work would be to spark renewed interest in a community design center for Philadelphia. Amazingly, the circle of architects who launched the R/UDAT and the Collaborative is still engaged in community design and advocacy. And, twenty years later, it is heartwarming to see a new generation embrace the spirit of volunteerism and community revitalization as participants in the work of the Community Design Collaborative.

Guest blogger Mary Ellen Yuhas Hagner is Associate and Marketing Manager with Kelly/Maiello Architects & Planners and served as the Operations Director for the Regional Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) program in 1990. She lent her encouragement and wisdom as the Community Design Collaborative took shape shortly afterwards—and continues to do so today!


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