Krisann Rehbein has been appointed the new director of Community Design Solutions (CDS), a design outreach arm of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning.
CDS provides preliminary design and planning services to underserved communities, nonprofit agencies and municipalities in Milwaukee and the surrounding areas. Architecture and urban planning students work with clients and faculty to develop concepts that promote positive change, stimulate funding opportunities and serve as a catalyst for continued investment.
Rehbein is a Milwaukee-based artist, design educator and nonprofit leader who specializes in youth and community engagement. Before accepting this position, she was executive director of ACE Mentor Chicago, an organization that introduces teens to career opportunities in architecture, construction and engineering.
Rehbein spent more than a decade at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (now Center), where she implemented citywide programming for teens, created community outreach initiatives and developed a suite of new adult programs to expand the conversation about the built environment.
She teaches at the UWM School of Architecture & Urban Planning and is frequently invited to speak on issues about access, equity and engagement in design. Rehbein is the recipient of multiple industry awards, including the AIA Chicago Distinguished Service Award in 2017 and the AIA Illinois Richard Nickel Award in 2021.
“We are thrilled to welcome Krisann as the new director of CDS,” said Mo Zell, interim dean of UWM’s College of the Arts and Architecture. “Her vision for the future of the organization, which includes expanding the role that faculty will play in projects, and her expertise in design and community engagement will help advance the work of CDS and uphold its reputation as a leader in community design.”
Rehbein succeeds Carolyn Esswein, who has served as CDS director for more than 10 years.
Under Esswein’s leadership, CDS has been involved in over 230 projects that have had a significant impact on the region. Among them is the Green Schoolyards project, a partnership among CDS, the nonprofit Reflo and Milwaukee Public Schools to transform asphalt schoolyards into outdoor classrooms, green infrastructure and safe play areas.
CDS also played a vital role in the Home Gr/Own Initiative, where residents were part of the planning process to add 20 parks and orchards in one of Milwaukee’s most under-resourced neighborhoods. The work has been recognized nationally as a SXSW Eco Urban Strategy Award recipient and a semifinalist for Harvard’s Innovation in Government Award.
During Esswein’s tenure, CDS conducted its hallmark Community Design + Development Charettes in a dozen neighborhood development projects throughout Milwaukee. The process brings diverse opinions together early in the planning process to achieve consensus on investment opportunities.