Community Place-making through Great Design

a view of the site plan design

Above: an aerial view of the community center site plan.

Our Interior Design students have gone above and beyond to design a community center for the Newhallville section of New Haven.

Doreen Abubakar, an award-winning environmental educator and social entrepreneur with the Community Placemaking Engagement Network ( has spent the last decade trying to improve the lives of people in Newhallville. Focusing on family fitness and outdoor recreation, her network created the Learning Corridor section of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, a linear park that stretches from Long Island Sound to Massachusetts.

This past year, UB Alumnus and CPEN advisor Angela Frusciante put Abubakar in touch with University of Bridgeport Interior Design Professor Marsha Matto to help her create a vision for the future of a vacant lot near the Learning Corridor. Matto has over twenty years of experience as a residential and commercial interior designer. But she left it all up to the Interior Design students of her Special Projects class.

streetview entrance
Streetview entrance

UB’s Interior Design students embark on a rigorous course of study that prepares them for state registration and the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. They often collaborate with outside design firms and participate in a range of actual design tasks. But this Special Projects class gives them a chance to “run their own firm,” above and beyond regular coursework.

The class is open to freshman through seniors, though usually the more experienced students take the lead. Nevertheless, it is run like a real interior design firm, with team projects that teach collaboration. Students get “on-the-ground learning” working on real-world problems, collaborating directly with real clients, gathering information and designing to brief. “They are involved from day one to completion on their projects,” says Matto. In previous years, students in this groundbreaking class designed a home in Fairfield and a new floorplan for the Bridgeport Public Library.

workshop entrance
Workshop entrance

The process teaches them preparedness and proactive business practices, and they learn on the job. “Don’t send questions to me,” Matto tells them. “I’m not your client.” In this case, their actual client, Abubakar, wanted a community center that included a woodworking facility, and the UB students suggested a meeting room for classes or speakers. She wanted a more intense form of community gardening where residents could pick the vegetables and then sell them at a farm stand. “We wanted to bring the outdoors in,” says Abubakar. “And we wanted it to be grounded in this urban community.”

The students quickly got to work, and by the end of the school year had produced a winner that Abubakar was very happy with, despite the challenges of COVID-19.

Plans for the space include a building designed by Angelica Haravata and Juan Hernandez, and an outdoor performance area designed by Olivia Kascak and Alexa Martinez. Jasmine Lanagan, Carlos Ruiz, and Yixuan Zhau designed a greenhouse using oak, concrete, and brick. Their designs were completed with “peacemaking” in mind, bringing the community together in a relaxing environment that promotes social interaction and human connection. They included a planters to grow healthy vegetables, an outdoor kitchen to cook, and a quiet place to “eat the fruits of their labor.”


walkway & seating area
Walkway & seating area

“This project was a big one,” Matto says. “It was the only one we worked on last year.” When completed, these buildings will add to the Learning Corridor’s public greenspace and Audubon-certified pollinator garden, giving a sustainable, family-friendly place for events and festivals. They will help CPEN continue to foster a sense of community spirit and resilience that will serve the people of Newhallville throughout the 21st century.