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Nehemiah Studio

Students standing in front of a poster board
Students at the Nehemiah Studio Review held at Goodwill Baptist Church.


The Nehemiah Studio is an ongoing set of studio courses at the University of Washington in the College of Built Environments.


Our commitment is to the creation of pathways for communities to heal from past inequities and thrive in an equitable and inclusive future. For our College, this begins with equipping our graduates with the requisite cultural understanding and intercultural fluency to use their financial, design, and planning expertise in service of an equitable and inclusive future. We trained students to be aware of how their cultural mindsets affected the way that they listened to and perceived the needs of the church leaders and others who visited the classroom.  The work of the studio provides real value to the community by presenting visions for future development that meet the needs of the currently community, building on the social and physical assets, and anticipate a vibrant future. – Renee Cheng, FAIA/NOMA, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington


Nehemiah Studios taught at the UW College of Built Environments


This year, the Nehemiah Studio was selected as the Autumn 2021 McKinley Futures Studio.

Nehemiah Interdisciplinary Studio: Building Beloved Community, taught by Rachel Berney, UDP + Donald King, Architecture + Al Levine, Real Estate

This is an interdisciplinary studio focused on developing, designing, and supporting real estate, urban design, and community development strategies in partnership with the Nehemiah Initiative for Black churches and institutions in Seattle.


The ill effects of rapid socioeconomic change have perhaps impacted the Central District (CD) more so than any other area in Seattle. Gentrification and displacement of the Black population has reached crisis levels as the percentage of African Americans living in the CD has declined from 73% in 1970 to less than 14% today. Seattle is losing the largest contiguous Black neighborhood north of California and, now, some of the most enduring institutions in the CD—the historically Black churches—face difficult decisions about whether to stay or to go.

Collectively, the churches own land throughout the CD. And, as a network, they could support each other in making more deliberate and strategic real-estate decisions. This vision is moving forward as the Nehemiah Initiative Seattle. The Initiative is a multi-pronged anti-displacement initiative to explore means and methods to mitigate gentrification and displacement through the development of the significant real estate assets of historically Black churches and institutions. The Initiative seeks to develop affordable mixed-use projects according to community needs and desires with the goal to retain, bring back, and attract new residents and tenants.

2019 – Autumn

RE 551 and UDP 508

McKinley Futures Nehemiah Studio

Instructors: Rachel Berney, Urban Design and Planning

                        Donald King, Architecture

                        Al Levine, Real Estate

2020 – Winter


Nehemiah Initiative: Stakeholder Meeting Prep

Instructor: Branden Born, Urban Design and Planning

2020 – Spring


Nehemiah Initiative: Stakeholder Engagement

Instructor: Branden Born, Urban Design and Planning

2020 – Autumn

RE 551A /URBDP 508

Nehemiah Interdisciplinary Studio

Instructors: Rachel Berney, Urban Design and Planning

                        Donald King, Architecture

                        Al Levine, Real Estate Development

2020 – Winter

ARCH 404

Nehemiah Initiative Study Site

Instructor: AnnMarie Borys, Architecture