A newspaper for ECU faculty and staff
Pieces of Eight

Cynthia Blunt (left) and Rainy Eyrich (right), both senior interior design majors at ECU, display their rendering of the Booker T. Theatre renovation located on the Douglas Block. Their renovation uses the space for a dinner theater.

Capstone Students Design Buildings for Historic Area

By Vicki Luttrell

East Carolina University interior design students, as part of the Capstone Studio, have created new designs in attempt to restore the vibrancy and dignity of Rocky Mount’s historic Douglas Block. The designs were presented to an audience of over 100 community members in November at the Rocky Mount city hall.

The Rocky Mount Community Development Division came to ECU with the project concept. The goal was to build on the Douglas Block Master Plan, adopted by the City Council in April.

“The Master Plan provided some visual displays, but the city needed specific designs for individual buildings to help the public understand that the Douglas Block is a canvas waiting for a masterpiece to be developed,” said Vanessa McCleary, Rocky Mount community development administrator.

“The Douglas Block Master Plan includes a mixture of retail businesses, offices and housing, as well as creates a venue for public gatherings and entertainment.” The objective was to “commemorate and interpret the city’s rich heritage, particularly that of the African-American community, which is strongly tied to the area.

“The Capstone Studio students stepped outside the box and brought fresh ideas to the project. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes from a different perspective to see what is really needed,” she said.

“The ECU students brought some great ideas to the table,” said Ben Boddie, a Rocky Mount resident who attended the November presentation. “These young people have ideas that some of us older folks might not think of. And, the models bring the vision into perspective.”

When Capstone Studio students were first given the project, they spoke with community members and the city staff to get an idea of what the community felt was important. They came up with creating a daycare center, dinner theatre, deli, coffee shop, hair salon, and other shops for the semi-vacant and dilapidated buildings.

“The goal of this project is to keep the historic characteristics of the buildings along the Douglas Block,” said Hunt McKinnon, Capstone Studio director and an ECU professor in interior design and merchandising. “The students have accomplished this by using similar flooring, windows, storefronts, and other decorative elements and details of the original buildings.”

At the Nov. 15 event, students presented their designs to over 100 attendees, including the community development group, community members, and developers interested in the initiative. Design ideas include both indoor and outdoor plans, as well as samples of interior materials such as flooring and fabric.

The students, all part of the Capstone Studio, had been working on this project since the beginning of the fall semester. They were split into groups of two to three and given a particular building along the Douglas Block to work on.

“Regardless of whether or not our designs will actually be used, this has given us real life experience,” said Tara Wright, senior interior design student. “We have been given the opportunity to work on real buildings to practice measuring and real design ideas.”

ECU’s Capstone Studio matches talented students with eligible community organizations allowing students a unique and exciting bridge between the classroom and real life work, while helping local communities find innovative ways of utilizing landmark buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

For more information, visit or contact Hunt McKinnon at

This page originally appeared in the Feb. 3, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at