College of Architecture, Art and Construction

‘It Takes a Village’: Clemson architecture faculty member leads design effort in the Lowcountry community where he grew up


Clemson students are part of a design effort to ensure that rural communities there can enjoy a future connected to the land they love and to each other.

Clemson University architecture students recently worked with members of several Gullah Geechee villages along the Pee Dee River, nonprofit organization The Village Group and Hasty Point Plantation to provide sustainable solutions to rural disparities such as infrastructure, food, housing, healthcare and public space in the community of Plantersville, S.C., a small rural community near Georgetown, S.C.

The studio was designed after a popular African proverb in rural America, “It Takes a Village,” that suggests the development of an individual, especially a child, is not solely dependent on the efforts of their immediate family but rather on the collective support and involvement of the entire community.

According to Clemson School of Architecture faculty member, alumnus and Lowcountry native Rayshad Dorsey, the studio looked at how ideas around 3rd space, the areas people gather outside of work and home, can address community, collaboration, shared responsibility and well-being. Using community feedback, students developed master plans and site designs for a cultural center.

“I’ve been working with The Village Groups over the past year as they are trying to create a space in rural South Carolina for a cultural center,” explained Dorsey. “The area the studio is focused on is in the southern portion of what has been defined as the ‘Corridor of Shame,’ where insufficiencies exist in every facet of life, including education, infrastructure, healthcare and food. Our studio addressed the pressing challenges of rural communities and envisioned a cultural center to bring the communities together.”

The project also hit close to home for Kathryn Crocker, a fourth-year architecture student.

“I grew up in Georgetown, SC, which is 15 minutes away from Plantersville, and that is why I was intentionally interested in this studio,” said Crocker. “I think being able to design something so important to the people of a community I was raised in and around made me more excited and ready for this studio than any other. Rayshad is a great professor, and his being from the area is fun because we both have the same excitement for this project.”

Gathering community feedback

In January, Dorsey and the students traveled to Plantersville for a community engagement event, where the community came together to discuss community needs and hopes for the cultural center.

The feedback provided and the information students learned about the area directly informed the work that students produced.

“It was very rewarding to meet the community and engage in meaningful conversations about their aspirations for the project, their visions for community growth and their needs,” explained Master of Architecture student Allysa High. “These conversations not only deepened my understanding of the project’s potential impact but also highlighted the community’s enthusiasm and commitment to positive change. Visiting the site and interacting with the stakeholders has offered precious insights and a clear sense of the community’s spirit and ambitions.”

Community-centric design

While each student’s project was based on creating a cultural center for the Plantersville community, no two projects were the same. The projects ranged from centers that were heavily focused on activity and play to projects that worked to capture the feeling and look of a village. In contrast, other projects focused on creating a complex that incorporated learning centers around farming, trad skills, STEM workshops, and wellness centers.

According to Dorsey, the throughline that tied the projects together was the culture of the community.

“The projects are all very different but also very similar,” explained Dorsey. “The fact that we are rooted in a Gullah Geechee community and culture is like the thing that has become the throughline between all the projects.”

“No two projects are alike; they are completely different,” Ray Huff, founder of the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston, told the class. “Each one has something that is really quite remarkable. As The Village Group and the community begin and continue to work on this project, I think you will see some of your ideas embedded in the project.

On April 19, 2024, the students presented their work to community members, The Village Group and two special guest critics: Huff and Master of Architecture alumnus Michael Urueta.

“Projects like this are really important,” Huff explained to the students. “Aspiring architects who are working with real communities that have important needs and an ambition to improve their communities is one of the most inspiring parts of our discipline as architects. For you to bring your talent to this community and show just an array of possibilities gives them a road map for what they can do.”

Ray Funnye, the executive director of The Village Group has worked with the students throughout this semester.

“Though collaboration, we build bridges between knowledge and community, creating spaces where innovation and empathy converge,” Funnye shared. “The work unveiled by Clemson Architecture students stands not only as a testament to their talent but as a beacon of unity, weaving the aspirations of The Village Group and the Plantersville community into the very fabric of our shared future.”

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