• Case Study: Grafik Intervention

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    Project Title
    Grafik Intervention
    2009–present (and growing as more design teams embrace it!)

    William Culpepper began this effort for his MFA graduate thesis at Academy of Art University. He is currently an assistant professor of graphic design at Ferris State University.

    Advisors (Academy of Art University, San Francisco)
    • Carolina de Bartolo
    • Alex Bruno
    • Marc English
    • Phil Hamlett, graduate director
    • Lian Ng
    • Anitra Nottingham
    • Jeremy Stout

    Interventions have been deployed by teams of design students and design professionals, as credited on the Grafik Intervention website. Special thanks to the AIGA Ferris State University student group and the class of 2011 graphic design students.



    How can graphic designers use their skills to draw attention to—and invoke a solution to—the problem of urban decay? How can they take responsibility and help rehabilitate those wounded environments?

    Buildings that sit vacant for one or more years can become eyesores in any community and even bring down the value of properties surrounding them. In some situations, it is too costly to rehabilitate these spaces, causing developers to avoid them and leaving them susceptible to blight. This project was designed to help bring awareness to these abandoned urban spaces and to inspire community members to consider the potential these currently unused buildings hold.


    Grafik Intervention uses digital projections to engage the public through visually dynamic and compelling communication methods. The projections are designed to provide historical information in an urban context on buildings after dark. Through the use of projected visuals and real-time discussions, printed questionnaires are used to elicit information from the general public as they walk, ride or drive by the case study buildings.

    Cities were identified and selected based on their abandoned urban spaces and potential for revitalization. Within each identified city, several case study buildings were carefully selected based on their notable history and location, in contrast to their current state of abandonment.

    Information of each building’s history was projected onto its facade creating a juxtaposition, thus, illuminating each building’s potential.

    Introducing Grafik Intervention from Grafik Intervention on Vimeo.


    Through engagement and awareness positive results occur when active community members take action and pride in their own neighborhoods and communities. Grafik Intervention is documenting each intervention as it happens.

    Designers and design students across the country have expressed interest in implementing their own Grafik Interventions, enabled by the D.I.Y. steps outlined on the project website. At least 10 are planned for 2011-2012. Here is information on the three that have taken place so far.

    Charlottesville, Virginia

    Population 50,000

    Charlottesville’s Starr Hill neighborhood is uniquely positioned between two of the city’s largest economic engines: the thriving downtown and the renowned University of Virginia. Currently, Starr Hill is rather derelict, run down and is waiting for a major revitalization. A local business association took interest. They noticed the potential of this unused urban corridor and created the first annual Midtown Street Fair. This fair was the first of its kind. Community members, lead by the association, have begun to showcase West Main Street as an important development center for Charlottesville.

    Big Rapids, Michigan

    Population 11,000

    The town of Big Rapids is located in central Michigan. Big Rapids was settled in 1853 on the site of a main rest stop on the Mackinaw Trail. Lumbering was the dominant industry during the boom and decline of the latter 1800s. Despite being a university town, Big Rapids has several vacant, unused or for-sale buildings in the city limits. Students projected graphic images onto the facades of an old automotive building, a former train depot and the original location for a local newspaper. Local community and university newspapers were on location, talking with participants and documenting the event for extended media coverage.

    Grand Rapids, Michigan

    Population 190,000

    A group of local artists and art enthusiasts who create one-night, site-specific art installations secured the 25,000-square-foot abandoned building at 2 East Fulton as the next SiTE:LAB location on April 15, 2011. SiTE:LAB facilitates dynamic collaborations between the art, education, business and cultural communities of Grand Rapids.

    Site-specific projects included students, faculty and alumni representing eight Michigan colleges and universities, as well as a number of local artists. AIGA student group members at Ferris State University projected dual images on the exterior façade of the building, illuminating the past and posing questions for the future use of 2 East Fulton.

    Future interventions are planned in: Austin; Boston; Boulder; Bozeman, Montana; Detroit; Flagstaff, Arizona; Phoenix; and Portland, Oregon.

    Pro bono

    This project has been done pro bono. Culpepper has developed this project on his own time. He credits its success with the interest in community and neighborhood volunteers.


    This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts

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