Reimagine a neighborhood

Community Building: Reimagine A Neighborhood

Architecture Learning Network, CMU Saturday Sequence

Neighborhoods are unique places.  On one block you can find many resources for the people who live there – homes, shops, stores, parks, and more. Not every block is the same or needs the same things. Millvale is a unique, vibrant neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA that is undergoing a renaissance. The neighborhood is become a center for sustainable development but also has to overcome many challenges. What can you think of to help Millvale thrive?

Be the urban planner. Be the architect.

This Architecture Learning Network project challenges you to wear both hats!  

Your job as the urban planner is to think about the Millvale community.  You'll look closely at all the different types of buildings and spaces and develop a plan to meet the needs of the community. Think about existing problems, community concerns, and society trends.

As an architect you'll choose a site and design a space to meet the needs addressed by your urban-planner-self! You'll turn the ideas into sketches, digital renderings, models, and plans.


In this project you'll look at 1 of 3 sites in the Millvale neighborhood, discover what that site needs through the design process, and design a space or place to meet those needs.

Think About

  • Who lives in this neighborhood and what do they need?
  • What do they want to see happen in this area?
  • Are there places for people to play, shop, work, learn, or live?


What do Millvale residents value? What plans are already made for Millvale? Do some research to see what plans exist for Millvale and how your ideas can fit in.

Collect Info

How do you Collect Info for this step of the design process?

For the Collect Information step of the design process, go out into your neighborhood and look closely at your surroundings. Gather information about what you see and don't see on the block.  Record your findings with notes, sketches, photos, or videos. Upload all your images and write about each one in your DiscoverDesign project - these notes will come in handy later in the design process!

Think About

  • What spaces are there for people to gather and relax?
  • What kinds of places are there for people to eat, shop, or work?
  • What kind of living spaces are available nearby?
  • How do people get around this part of the neighborhood - walk, bike, drive?

Field Trip 10/7

  • As we walk through Millvale, look closely.
  • Take pictures of different types of buildings, lots, people, traffic, and green space.
  • Take some notes and do quick sketches to record your thinking
  • Interview people walking by! Ask them questions like: What do you notice most on this block?  What things do you like or dislike, why? What do you wish was on this block and why?


Create a land use map of your block

This is an important color-coded tool used in counting, labeling, and documenting what is in a neighborhood. Print out a map of your block using Google Earth. Pick a color for each kind of land use: residential, commercial, park or green space, etc. Click the link below for more information, such as what colors to use for each kind of land use. 

Get the lesson & activity here!

Brainstorm Ideas

How do you Brainstorm for this step of the Design Process?

Using all the information you collected, now you will brainstorm ideas for what to add or change to your site.

You'll probably come up with a lot of ideas for what to design.  Explore a few of your favorite ideas and then choose ONE to focus on. Spend time brainstorming different ways to create that specific space.

Hint! The design process doesn't always happen in order. You may need to go back and collect more information now that you have picked a specific idea.

Think About

  • Have you ever been on a street that you really enjoyed? What did you like about it?
  • Have you ever walked down a street you did NOT enjoy? What was that like?
  • What does your space need? Where on the block should it go?
  • What good things did you see and think are important to keep as a part of the neighborhood?
  • What problems did you identify on your walk? What would have to do to fix those problems?

Design Charrette 10/14

A Design Charrette is a fast-paced planning session where people collaborate on a new idea for a place. Students will be randomly grouped and will have 2 hours to come up with 1 or a few design proposals for the Millvale community. Review the information you gathered on your field trip to help inspire a design. Use post-it notes to get out all your ideas - good, bad, silly, serious, or impossible! There are no wrong answers, just ideas!

Good design examples will also be left on each table. Get inspired by looking at other great street examples from your neighborhood, state, country, and all around the world! You can also gather pictures of your favorite streets, sidewalks, shops, parks, and more and upload these to the Brainstorm step of your project.

Develop Solutions

How do you Develop Solutions for this step of the Design Process?

In the Develop Solutions step, your rough ideas come together with further details, models, sketches, and studies. Which idea for Millvale did you decide to design? Make quick prototype models with cardboard, paper, and tape. This helps get the ideas flowing & helps you imagine a space differently.

In this step you will come up with one design possibility for the chosen idea. Think back to the problems you identified in the Collect Information and Brainstorm steps of the Design Process. Focus on the possibilities that solve those problems.

Think About

What community needs did you discover as an urban planner? What site needs should you now consider more deeply as an architect?

  • What site did you choose? Why? Think about the buildings or spaces surrounding it - do they make sense together?
  • What is the climate like? What types of plant life could be incorporated into the plan?
  • How do people get from place to place? What modes of transportation need to be planned for?
  • Will your site include any green space for a park? What kind of park will it be?

Design Development Sessions 10/21, 10/28, 11/4

Draw a sketch or use software such as Google SketchUp to illustrate your ideas.  You can upload photos (JPG files) from your SketchUp model, video fly throughs (FLV files) of your SketchUp model, or drawings.

Make a model of your design and a few of the surrounding buildings or spaces. They don't need to be very detailed, but show the general massing of the buildings.


Final Design

How do you develop a Final Design for this step of the design process?

The final step of the design process is to create more finished drawings that illustrate your ideas to others. Remember, your explanation text and the types of drawings, images, and models you share need to tell the whole story of your project to someone who may or may not have ever visited your site, your block, or even your city.

Pro Tip: Getting peer feedback through DiscoverDesign is great practice for being a professional architect. Collecting from and giving constructive feedback to peers, teachers, and mentors helps you improve your final design. During the 7th session, everyone will login and submit at least 3 comments on other projects to receive feedback.

Deliverables Due 11/18

Your final project will need the following items. Upload images for the Finalize step:

  • Site plan
  • Street section
  • At least 1 building plan
  • At least 1 building elevation
  • Model (physical or digital)
  • *optional: renders/perspective drawings


How do you plan a Presentation for this step of the design process?

Present your ideas

Pretend you are the lead architect for the project and want to gain the support of the local citizens as well as the city’s decision makers. What would you say to convince them that your work can positively impact their neighborhood? What did you observe in your research and how does your work address those details? Upload your final presentation statement under Present for your final project and list your project partners.

Think About

  • Review your design and test it against your original statement that you wrote for the Overview. Does it meet this criteria?
  • Does your final design meet the expectations of the Millvale residents?  If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board and revise your design.
  • Make a list of your ideas, sketches, and study models. For your final design you will want to write and post a short but effective paragraph of your process and the unique solutions you found developed. Tell us about your ideas. Rule of Thumb: Stick to 3 big ideas.
  • Your teacher and architectural mentors will be looking for these things:
    1. originality in your design
    2. your ability to creatively solve the design challenge
    3. the quality of images, sketches, drawings, and models you have uploaded in each of the five design process steps (Overview, Collect Info, Brainstorm Ideas, Develop Solutions, and Final Design).
    4. As your ideas change, be sure to explain your thinking and let others know about the new work you have posted to your account. Go back to the virtual drawing board and revise your project based on the feedback of others.
    5. how well you have written about and explained your thinking in each of the design process steps