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November 05, 2012

Cleveland Institute of Art awarded $50,000 Ford grant for river project

CIA is one of four American colleges funded

For Immediate Release
Contact: Richard Konisiewicz, 216.421.7359,

CLEVELAND (Ohio) – The Cleveland Institute of Art has received a $50,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company in support of an ambitious project that has students designing sustainable bulkheads to line the Cuyahoga River. Dubbed “Fish and Ships,” the project aims to design alternatives to the now-deteriorating steel and concrete bulkheads that line the last several miles of the river leading to its mouth at Lake Erie.

The funding comes from Ford’s highly competitive grant-making initiative, Ford College Community Challenge (C3), which this year is also supporting projects at Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, and Purdue University. A total of 26 colleges and universities applied for C3 grants this year.

The Ford C3 program is designed to empower student-led projects at higher education organizations that address pressing local needs, according to Michael Schmidt, director of Education and Community Development, Ford Motor Company Fund. The overarching theme of the Ford College Community Challenge is “Building Sustainable Communities.”

“At Ford, we understand that to be a truly sustainable organization, we must play an active role in the larger community, helping to address a wide range of vital issues from education to safety to mobility,” said Schmidt.

The winning proposals each address, in some creative way, a tangible, unmet community need that touches at least one of four issues/areas of interest to Ford: mobility, alternative energy, systemic approaches to meeting nonprofit needs, or sustainability/water. The CIA project addresses the Cuyahoga River’s functions both environmentally and commercially, sustaining both fish and ships.

In order to maintain the Cuyahoga as a sufficiently deep river for large ship traffic, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers periodically dredges the navigation channel and long ago installed heavy gauge steel panels and concrete walls as bulkheads to keep the riverbanks stable and in place. Construction of these bulkheads on the Cuyahoga (and many other rivers feeding the Great Lakes) destroyed habitat sometimes described as nursery ground for larval fish that would migrate into Lake Erie. As a result, bulkheads throughout the region dramatically reduced both the diversity of aquatic life in the Great Lakes and the filtration of runoff into the river that would occur on a natural, plant-covered river bank.

According to the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, the Cuyahoga River bulkheads – some of which are more than 50 years old – are now deteriorating and beginning to jeopardize safe navigation for large ships. Rather than simply replacing these aging bulkheads with newer versions of the same design, the Planning Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers have been seeking bulkhead designs that would both maintain the shoreline for navigation, and create habitat for larval fish.

CIA Associate Professor Douglas Paige and environmental engineer Jennifer Hillman are working with CIA Industrial Design students – with some input from graduate students in Biomimicry from the University of Akron, and undergraduates in engineering and biology from Case Western Reserve University – to develop concepts of “green” bulkheads. Since the fall semester began, students have been studying river systems and biomimicry methodology through classroom lectures and a kayak trip to study both natural and human-made river banks up close.

“The Cuyahoga River green bulkheads project will help build sustainable communities in two ways,” Paige explained. “First, the replacement bulkheads will maintain a navigable channel in the Cuyahoga River for industrial shipping; the sustainability of Cleveland’s economy depends on the river continuing to serve as a reliable thoroughfare for commerce.

“Second, the replacement bulkheads will be environmentally sustainable in that they will be designed to mimic a natural, plant-covered riverbank by providing protective habitat for fish, minimizing erosion while filtering sediment out of runoff that enters the river and in so doing, improving water quality,” Paige said.

Prof. Paige is in the second year of a two-year Biomimicry Professional Certificate course offered by the Helena, Montana-based Biomimicry 3.8 organization ( He participates in a combination of online and on-site graduate-level courses taught by leading biologists, ecologists, architects, designers and other professionals in this emerging field. Paige and his students are applying concepts from this field, in which humans mimic designs found in nature, to the development of new designs for river shoreline management.

Thinking ahead to their future careers, CIA Industrial Design students eagerly participate in “real-world” projects. In recent years, they have developed design concepts for the U.S. Army (through a contract with Battelle), Diebold Incorporated, Nissan, GE Lighting, Nestle and other organizations.

“The green bulkheads project will be particularly enriching for CIA’s Industrial Design students – whether they ultimately pursue automotive design, product design or some other design field – by providing them with an educational experience that requires them to conduct research, think creatively, and balance practical considerations with aesthetics and principles of sustainability,” Prof. Paige said.


Founded in 1882, the Cleveland Institute of Art is an accredited, independent college of art and design committed to nurturing the intellectual, artistic and professional development of students and community members through rigorous visual arts and design education. The Institute offers 18 undergraduate majors and extends its programs to the public through gallery exhibitions; lectures; a continuing education program; and The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, a nationally acclaimed art and independent film program.

Cleveland Institute of Art is supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

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