Helping Iowa communities big and small

The Iowa State University Community Design Lab (CDL) aims to make a difference in Iowa communities by combining its design research expertise with local knowledge to find solutions to the unique needs and goals of its partners. By providing research, engagement, and designs in line with the partner community goals, the lab works to create equity and resilience through inclusive, transferable, innovative strategies and tactics.

Partnership with communities is the foundation for the CDL’s work; while the lab brings professional expertise and research-driven methods to the table, the local knowledge and decision-making provided by community partners is essential.

The CDL is a collaboration between the Iowa State University College of Design and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. It encompasses many fields of expertise, including landscape architecture, architecture, sustainable agriculture, community and regional planning, and community development. 

Recent projects

The Community Design Lab collaborates with community steering communities to analyze existing conditions and map assets, gather local ideas and information, and create design solutions that address a community issue or goal. Here are some of the CDL’s ongoing and recently completed projects:

  • Carver Elementary Garden at George Washington Carver Elementary School in Des Moines
    • Expanding a school garden to integrate space for community gardeners, local food production, and opportunities for experiential education
  • Clarinda Lied Center in Clarinda
    • Collaborating with the community to design an addition to the wellness center and develop a city-wide trail
  • Coe College in Cedar Rapids
    • Design exploration on five priority sites
  • Cultivate Hope Urban Farm in Cedar Rapids
    • Reconsidering land use and increasing food security after a flood

The Community Design Lab provides strategic design assistance to the Community Food Systems (CFS) program housed within three units of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Community and Economic Development, and Local Foods Team.

This program partners with communities to develop and design their local and regional food systems, and is devoted to long-term community empowerment and lasting impacts.

  • 6th Avenue Corridor in Des Moines
    • Partnering with a nonprofit organization to plan for the promotion and revitalization of corridor neighborhoods
  • SW 9th Street in Des Moines
    • Engaging with the public and all of the stakeholders for revitalization strategies
  • Morgan Cline Park in Centerville
    • Enhancing a park with recommendations to manage stormwater and enhance environmental quality
  • Waukon Works in Waukon
    • Providing support to Extension staff working with Waukon to develop a community vision and comprehensive city plan

  • Parks and trails in Centerville
    • Creating a clear community identity with designs for an enhanced and interconnected park and trail system
  • Nole Ridge Orchard in Cedar Rapids
    • Partnering with enthusiastic high school students to enhance an orchard


Please contact the Community Design Lab using the form below to learn more about its work and to partner on future projects.

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Students working on class project in the King Pavillion.

A Cyclone in the Making

Find your place at Iowa State University’s College of Design, where we like to ask questions, poke and prod, create something new, and make a difference through design.