The "River Cities Project" is an extension and expansion of "The Henderson Project," which began in June 2007 when students from the University of Kentucky College of Design and the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles traveled to Henderson for a five-day design workshop. The workshop was organized to speculate on Henderson's future development, especially in light of changing economic and demographic conditions. In designs presented to the community, including a number of compelling proposals for the Henderson riverfront, students explored the history, culture and unique personality of Henderson. The success of the workshop led Henderson natives Tim Skinner, Mark Bethel, and Drura Parrish to found "The Henderson Project." Their aim was to initiate a more structured collaboration between the Henderson community and the University of Kentucky College of Design that would not only raise funds to support future student projects, but that would also raise awareness and expectations about how design might enable communities and small towns to realize their potential.
Since arriving in 2008, College of Design Dean Michael Speaks has embraced "The Henderson Project" as the model for a new post-graduate Master Degree that will focus on river cities along the Ohio River. In fall, 2008, Matthijs Bouw, College of Design Sutherland Visiting Professor of Landscape Design, along with School of Architecture Professor Anne Filson, led a graduate level studio that developed strategic design proposals for the city of Henderson.
In spring, 2010, the emphasis shifted to the recently retired HMPL1 Plant and the Henderson riverfront. Working with the spring term College of Design Sutherland Visiting Professor of Landscape Design Marcelo Spina, and Architecture Instructor/Henderson Native Drura Parrish the studio developed four sites along the river in Henderson, Kentucky. The projects range from an algae research facility; adaptive reuse of decommissioned HMPL 1 powerplant; a twenty story IMAX movie theater; and multi use recreational facility located in an old granary. The students, instructors and College would like to thank the residents of Henderson for their generosity, enthusiasm, and leadership.