A website dedicated to research and design of services for youth and families, with a focus in Northside Minneapolis


Project Overview

The Design for Youth: Equity & Opportunity website is based on three-years of student research and design (2018-20). Professor Julia Robinson’s undergraduate architectural design students in the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota investigated and prepared design proposals that addressed how to prevent youth from involvement with the juvenile justice system.


In Fall 2018, working with the Hennepin-University Partnership (HUP), Angela Cousins of the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, and Dr. Julia Robinson, FAIA, Professor of Architecture at the University of Minnesota agreed to collaborate in teaching a research-based design studio in the School of Architecture focusing on youth. They were joined by Daniel Treinen, AIA, architect with BWBR Architects. The goal was to understand how to reduce or eliminate the number of young people in detention settings, which came to be reframed over the three years as “preventing juvenile incarceration,” and “expanding youth opportunities.”

In 2019 and 2020, the design studios focused on neighborhoods in North Minneapolis, affiliating with the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), working with Alysha Price as Community Consultant, and engaging community members from Northside Minneapolis in the research and design process.

For Professor Robinson, the studio is the culmination of a long-term research interest in the effects of institutional housing. In the 1980s and 1990s, her work with Dr. Travis Thompson, Psychologist, University of Minnesota, focused on deinstitutionalization for people with developmental disabilities. Concerned that people with developmental disabilities be housed in domestic rather than institutional settings they studied many different housing types to identify the difference between institution and home. Robinson’s book, Institution & Home: Architecture as a Cultural Medium (Techne Press, 2006), identifies different categories of housing relative to individual autonomy: domestic, domestic with institutional characteristics, partial institutions, complete institutions and oppressive institutions- this last including traditional incarceration facilities.

Robinson’s interest in applying her knowledge to prisons and to decarceration was triggered by reading Angela Davis’s book Are Prisons Obsolete?, and then Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. In spring of 2018 she initiated the research in a graduate studio called “Reconceiving Incarceration,” that explored treatment visions alternative to punishment. Several representatives from the Hennepin County Department of Corrections and Community Rehabilitation attended reviews of student work, including Angela Cousins, who was then involved in the youth corrections facilities, with whom this project was initiated.