Veteran UH Professor, Researcher Awarded AIA Houston Civic Vision Award
Nov. 7, 2022
By Mike Emery, 713-743-7197
Make no mistake about it. Susan Rogers has a deep affection for both the city of Houston, and the University of Houston.
Rogers, associate professor at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, diligently works alongside students and civic leaders to develop new visions for Houston-area communities. As the director of UH research center Community Design Resource Center (CDRC), she and students view once thriving areas of the city through a new lens.
Vacant lots become potential sites for recreational or educational spaces. Unpaved or overgrown easements are reimagined as scenic pedestrian routes. And abandoned storefronts can take on new lives as facilities offering multifunctional programming.
Beyond simply visualizing new beginnings for underserved areas of the city, she and students immerse themselves within Houston neighborhoods and meet with residents to address their needs. Their efforts offer promise for areas of the city that may not have the resources to access professional design services, often sparking plans that transform these very communities.
Three communities that have benefitted from student and CDRC partnership projects include OST/South Union, Eastex Jensen, and Sharpstown. In OST/South Union, students worked with Agape Development CDC to create visions for a new community center and housing that are now being realized. Rogers and students also proposed a hike and bike trail in Sharpstown that began to take shape a year later. And in Eastex Jensen, student-designed public art celebrating the history and culture of the neighborhood was installed.
Rogers’ projects have not gone unnoticed, as she recently earned the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Houston Civic Vision Award. This honor is annually presented to city visionaries who are committed to enhancing Houstonians’ quality of life.
“Susan Rogers has had an enormous impact on our city,” AIA Houston stated in its award announcement. “She believes that establishing partnerships where designers work side by side with community members is the foundation for visionary and positive change. Her work and the values that underpin it are reinforced by the mission of the CDRC.”
Rogers is among the countless UH faculty members who embody the “We Dare” spirit of the University of Houston. Through her leadership and partnerships throughout the city, she inspires Houstonians to realize new pathways forward for their respective neighborhoods.
In this edition of Faculty Focus, Rogers — who celebrated 18 years at UH this year — shared some insights on her recent accolades and her career at UH.
UH: How does this recent honor validate your work here at UH and with the CDRC?
Rogers: I take great pride in accepting an honor like the AIA Houston Civic Vision Award, but I did not accomplish this on my own. In addition to my students, I work with community leaders, community groups, nonprofit organizations, city and county agencies, and others. We work together to define transformative design strategies that seek to create a more just and equitable city. All of our work through the years provided the foundation for this award, and I could not have earned this recognition without the support and commitment of so many others in Houston.
UH: You’ve developed some amazing partnerships through the years, but you also have honed the talents of students who are destined to become future planners, designers and leaders in Houston and beyond.
Rogers: That is very important to me. It’s another role within the scope of my responsibilities at the college and the CDRC. I’ve had more than 40 students contribute to the center as student workers. Many have gone on to graduate school, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard GSD, and hold positions at influential architecture and design firms. Recent graduates and CDRC alumni are currently working at SCAPE in New Orleans and at Gehl in New York City. Our students are integral in supporting the CDRC’s research and practice and go on to become ambassadors to transform how the design profession thinks about its relationships to communities.
UH: What is it like for you and your students to see your ideas begin to come to life in our city?
Rogers: It is definitely very rewarding and reinforces why we do what we do. Our work starts in partnership with community groups by simply asking questions and listening. With the right questions, community members don’t simply tell us what they want, they share a vision for their community … which moves beyond what’s probable to what’s possible.
We have worked in 38 of Houston’s 88 Super Neighborhoods. We’ve seen many of these neighborhoods go on to be part of city-sponsored efforts. This means that resources may be available to support some of the projects we propose. For example, we finished a project addressing flooding in 2020, in partnership with Edgebrook, East Houston, Eastex/Jensen, Kashmere Gardens, and Trinity and Houston Gardens leaders.
Since concluding that initiative, East Houston and Edgebrook were selected by the City of Houston’s Planning and Development Department to develop Resilience Plans. Both neighborhoods were previously not on the radar but are now receiving attention and support from city leaders.
We have illustrated real possibilities for these areas to city leaders, agencies and departments. This demonstrates the relevance of engaging community members in real discussions and meaningful processes.
UH: You’ve been at UH for 18 years. What’s your favorite thing about working here?
Rogers: I love the University of Houston! I am definitely a proud Cougar.
I’d say the students are what I love most about the University. Recently, I had a great experience when I delivered a talk to another professor’s class about an essay I wrote that’s published in More City Than Water: A Houston Flood Atlas. It’s about my neighborhood, Meadowcreek Village, and what happened around us during Harvey. One of the students in the class happened to live in my neighborhood. The professor told me later how much that talk resonated with this student and his engagement with the content had changed. He realized that people cared about where he lived.
I think at other universities, it’s likely that students did not grow up in areas that are being studied as part of research or high-impact learning projects. In contrast, at UH it is not uncommon for students to work on projects in their own backyards and where they live. That brings the importance of design closer to them and helps provide meaningful learning experiences.