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K-State Today

Division of Communications and Marketing
Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
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Manhattan, KS 66506

September 20, 2019

Internationally renowned urban designer to present at APDesign Ekdahl Lecture Series

Submitted by Thom Jackson

Renee Kemp-Rotan

Urban designer Renee Kemp-Rotan, president and CEO of Studio|Rotan, will present "The Africatown International Design Idea Competition — So NOW what's the story?" as part of the 2019-2020 College of Architecture, Planning & Design's Ekdahl Lecture Series at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, in Regnier Forum at Regnier Hall on the K-State Manhattan campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Additionally, there will be a multicultural presentation as part of the APDesign Intercultural Collaborative "Navigating Public/Private Partnerships in Multicultural Communities" at 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Pierce Commons at Regnier Hall.

Kemp-Rotan, master planner, urban design and professional competition advisor, will present the process behind her development of the multisite international design challenge to resolve the most critical issues in preservation of this unique 1865 African built community, from conflicts between American slavery and freedmen-built towns; public health and environmental protection; public and private cultural heritage agendas; African-centric architecture and zoning; site control and implementation; to the creation of the Africatown Cultural Mile as a cultural tourism/economic development engine that revitalizes the grossly underserved population of Africatown.

In 2019, Clotilda the slave ship was discovered in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Now, there is international interest in this unique American place built by Africans at the end of the Civil War. This is a tale of American slavery, two Southern cities, one town and many African descendants. In 1860, 110 Africans were brought from Benin/Dahomey/Nigeria to Mobile Bay on the Clotilda, the last slave cargo ship to come to America. In 1865, after five years of enslavement, Clotilda Africans were emancipated; 32 freed slaves then built their own town called Africatown. Today, vestiges of this unique African American settlement remain, spread across multiple waterways and two Alabama cities, Prichard and Mobile. What once was an Africantown is now an African American descendant neighborhood in poor repair — a unique American place, threatened by generations of benign neglect. The Africatown International Design Idea Competition aims to resolve longstanding issues about spatial, social and economic justice for the underserved descendants of historic Africatown, Alabama.

An internationally regarded urban designer, Kemp-Rotan's works are now included in "The African American National Biography," edited by Henry Louis Gates, director of the WEB Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. The book is archived in the  African American Archives at Oxford University, England.

Kemp-Rotan was nominated by three American Institute of Architects presidents to serve as governance chair on the National Diversity and Inclusion Council. As a long-standing member of AIA and the National Organization of Minority Architects, or NOMA, she was featured in ARCHITECTURE magazine in December 2016 and  NOMA magazine in fall 2017. She recently reignited StudioRotan, her civic design firm, established in 1988.  As a Washington, D.C., native, Kemp-Rotan attended public schools, won the AIA/Ford Foundation Minority Scholarship Award to Syracuse University and since has traveled the world to 33 countries.

View a full list of the 2019-2020 Ekdahl Lectures.

The Oscar S. Ekdahl Distinguished Lecture Series in Architecture and Design brings the finest professionals in the design and planning disciplines to APDesign and the K-State community. These individuals are selected to avail faculty, staff, students and regional professionals to the potency of design and planning in addressing the issues we face as a global society. The series honors Oscar Ekdahl who received his Bachelor of Architecture from Kansas State University in 1933 and was a founding partner in Ekdahl, Davis, Depew, Persson Architects PA in Topeka.