Students at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning (SAP) are learning essential real-world skills, while simultaneously boosting economic innovation in rural New Mexico. 

Tim Castillo, associate professor and associate dean for Student Engagement and Academic Innovation, co-founded the Finding Rural design program in 2015 as a partnership between UNM SAP, Western New Mexico University and the School of Architecture at Woodbury University. This year, the program paired SAP students with city, county and community leaders in Deming to brainstorm ways to revitalize the city’s downtown area. 

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Deming Mayor Benny L. Jasso. “We’re going to be the big beneficiaries of this because we’ll actually have the new designs in our community, but I think it is a win for the students as well because they will be able to put their names on the concept.”

Deming is expanding, due to its proximity to the interstate and the new Port of Entry being constructed in Columbus, New Mexico – which is predicted to be complete in early 2019. Deming is also a rest stop for tourists traveling from Tucson to Las Cruces. Regional planners see this as a time to capitalize on the increased foot and road traffic, and breath more life into the city. 

“We’re looking at these rural communities in New Mexico to see how we, as designers and planners, can bring a different perspective,” said Geraldine Forbes Isais, dean of SAP. 

Forbes Isais, along with Castillo and other faculty at SAP, lead the students through a series of assignments including a site-specific project and group collaboration on a master plan.

Deming studio :: 2018 from Tim C on Vimeo.

“We do an assessment analysis of what the city leaders are interested in and what projects they want to pursue,” Castillo said. “We take those and develop an architectural program with the students which is then presented to the city leaders, so they can see what options are available to them.”

Part of the assessment includes providing free consulting services and cost projections that Deming leaders can then use later in the development process. This “pre-design” work gives student’s real-world experience collaborating with the Deming Mayor’s Office and City Council to formulate fully-rendered ideas that city leaders can then take to local architecture or planning offices to have implemented. It benefits the University by building students’ resumes, and helps rural communities save money by not having to contract out parts of the planning process. 

“The student’s outside opinions, along with the training, experience and knowledge the School of Architecture and Planning, makes me realize Deming has a lot more to offer than I even realized,” said Deming City Councilman Victor Cruz. “And they present it in such a nice concise way, which makes it much easier to formulate our strategic plan.”

Priscilla Lucero, executive director of the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, said the partnership benefits the whole region by bringing together resource. She commended UNM, Castillo and Forbes Iasis for being forward-thinking, and instrumental in bringing amenities to small communities who otherwise wouldn’t have access.

“What we have found is that many things that used to be rural programs, have now been moved to the metro areas,” Lucero said. “Bringing those back to the rural areas is a plus. Also, these are the kind of connections that maximize our opportunities to seek funding, so local governments have money for infrastructure, economic development and transportation.”

Next week, the SAAP students will present their concepts at a townhall meeting in Deming. Community members have already expressed their interest and excitement; and if all goes according to plan, the concepts will become a reality in the coming years.