School of Architecture and Urban Planning (SARUP) is pleased to announce the appointment of Krisann Rehbein as the new director of Community Design Solutions (CDS) effective July 15, 2023. Rehbein will succeed Carolyn Esswein, who has served as CDS director for over ten years. CDS is a design center that provides design and planning services to nonprofit organizations, community groups, and municipalities in Milwaukee and the surrounding areas.

Rehbein is a Milwaukee-based artist, design educator and nonprofit leader who specializes in youth and community engagement. She is currently the Executive Director of ACE Mentor Chicago, an organization that introduces teens to career opportunities in architecture, construction, and engineering. Rehbein spent over a decade at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (now Center) where she implemented city-wide 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 SARUP 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.

Mo Zell, Interim Dean of the College of the Arts and Architecture, said, “We are thrilled to welcome Krisann as the new director of CDS. 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 added, “I am honored to have been selected to lead CDS, which has a remarkable reputation for its community-based design work. I am excited to build on the work of Carolyn Esswein and her team. My goal is to further integrate the expertise of faculty and students at SARUP into CDS projects, as well as expand the center’s portfolio of work and deepen our engagement with the Milwaukee community.”

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 between CDS, nonprofit Reflo, and Milwaukee Public Schools to transform asphalt schoolyards into outdoor classrooms, green infrastructure, and safe play areas.

Another notable project is the Turnkey Housing initiative, where CDS staff worked with Layton Boulevard West Neighbors organization and local contractors on the conversion of foreclosed homes to sell to families in the neighborhood, providing homeownership opportunities in the Silver City neighborhood.

CDS also played a vital role in the Home Gr/Own Initiative, where residents were an integral part of the planning process to add 20 parks and orchards in one of Milwaukee’s most underresourced neighborhoods. The work has been recognized nationally as a SXSW Eco Urban Strategy Award recipient and a semi-finalist for Harvard’s Innovation in Government Award.

CDS has facilitated its hallmark Community Design + Development Charettes process over a dozen times on significant neighborhood development projects throughout Milwaukee. The process, which Esswein developed and has presented at conferences across the country, brings diverse opinions together early in the planning process to achieve consensus on investment opportunities, ultimately providing feasible solutions to numerous stakeholders. In Milwaukee, resulting projects account for nearly $50 million invested with an additional $150 million in projected investments for additional projects underway.

“I want to express my deep appreciation for Carolyn Esswein’s exceptional leadership of CDS over the past several years,” said Zell. “Her dedication to community-based design and her commitment to fostering partnerships between SARUP and local organizations has been instrumental in CDS’s success.”

About Community Design Solutions
Community Design Solutions (CDS) is a funded design center in the School of Architecture & Urban Planning (SARUP) that assists communities, agencies, civic groups, and campuses throughout Wisconsin. CDS provides preliminary design and planning services to underserved communities and agencies. Students from SARUP work with director, clients, and faculty to develop concepts that promote positive change, stimulate funding opportunities, and serve as a catalyst for continued investment.