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Rural Design: Establishing the Research Foundation for a New Design Discipline Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR. Rural design is a powerful tool for integrating knowledge across disciplines to solve difficult social, environmental and economic problems impacting rural regions.

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Rural Design: Establishing the Research Foundation for a New Design DisciplineDewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR

Rural design is a powerful tool for integrating knowledge across disciplines to solve difficult social, environmental and economic problems impacting rural regions.

Dewey Thorbeck, FAIA, FAAR

Adjunct Professor and Director, Center for Rural Design, University of Minnesota


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Rural Design and Urban Design:

Rural design and urban design have many similarities in that both embrace quality of life.

Rural design seeks to understand and embody the unique characteristics of open landscapes and systems where buildings and towns are components of the landscape, rather than defining infrastructure and public space—as in urban design.


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Rural Design:

Is an interdisciplinary design discipline for resolving rural needs through the lens of spatial arrangement, community engagement, research-based evidence, and the integrated problem-solving process of design.

Issues include: Climate Change; One Health; Community Vitality; Rural Character; Rural Indigenous Peoples; Transfer of Design Skills to Rural Citizens; and Regional Collaboration/Cooperation.


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  • Rural Design Methodologies:

  • Envisioning alternative scenarios

  • Systemic and holistic point of view by connecting the dots.

  • Using interactive media to inform about possibility and opportunity for economic and community vitality.

  • Partnering to create regional relationships that cross jurisdictional boundaries.

We seek interdisciplinary collaboration for rural design using data-driven evidence that will result in transformational changes in rural regions


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  • SUMMARY - Rural Design bings:

  • Information to policy makers.

  • A methodology to resolve critical issues.

  • A process for informing citizens.

  • Community-based design and stakeholder involvement through design process.

  • Opportunities for synergism, holistic thinking and entrepreneurship.

  • Understanding of regional sense of place for economic competitiveness.

Research Fellows Stephen Streng, Steve Roos, and Tracey Kinney contributed greatly

to the ideas expressed in this paper.