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Research and Design Institute Records

A description of its records at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC/RHB
Date: Mar 2009

Biographical History

The Research and Design Institute (1965-1976) was inspired by John F. Kennedy's challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Fifty Rhode Island civic leaders created the RDI to support economic development in New England by conducting design research to improve the quality of life. Ronald Beckman, vice-president of the design firm George Nelson and Co., was appointed director and G. William Miller, president of Textron Corporation, was elected Chairman of the Board. U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell helped secure start-up funds from the Federal Area Redevelopment Agency and a matching state grant was approved by Rhode Island governor John H. Chaffee. The initial staff of nine included business manager Eric J. M. Godfrey, architects John Beynon and Jan Terezczenko, industrial designers Ronald Jacob and Howard Yarme, cultural anthropologist William Azano, and a secretarial staff of three. During its most active periods, the staff tripled in size.

The institute's goal was to demonstrate superior environments -- designing schools, housing, medical facilities, urban places and workspaces that would attract an entrepreneurial population to Rhode Island and promote economic growth. In 1967 Beckman received the first graphic design grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to advance highway communication and safety. With New York University, RDI assembled a site for "Design-In," an environmental conference held in Central Park in 1968. A hospital interior to support Progressive Patient Care was completed in southern Rhode Island in 1969, and one of the first open-plan office interiors in America was installed for B.A. Ballou Company of East Providence in 1970. More than 20 different projects were undertaken for colleges and universities, and the Institute completed master plans for three high schools, four elementary schools, and the Rhode Island School for the Deaf. Designs for education were based on a national survey of outstanding elementary schools commissioned by the Educational Facilities Laboratory of the Ford Foundation.

A program established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), entitled "Socio/Physical Design," allowed the institute to design environments in response to research findings on large federal projects. The institute collaborated with architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum on a proposal for the American Pavilion in Osaka, Japan (1972); the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (1973-1975); and the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport highway network (1975).

After completing over 50 projects, the central mission of the institute shifted to conservation and alternative energy technology. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the institute developed a solar electric/solar heated daycare center engineered by Professor Joseph Loferski and his graduate students at Brown University (1975-1979). Another project was a large solar collector and wind power demonstration at the UAW Education Center in northern Michigan (1976). Funded by the NEA, RDI prototyped an alternative energy expo for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the last years of its operation, the institute poured all its efforts into the renovation of the 17th century Stillman White Brass Foundry in Providence, Rhode Island, hoping to create a center to demonstrate a softer path of energy use. By 1976, however, a lack of local funding and resistance to innovative ideas such as energy conservation and historic preservation led to the closing of RDI. It was replaced by the for-profit REDE Corporation, which continued producing design proposals and projects until 1983.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Research and Design Institute Records consist of business files, correspondence, research reports, drawings, posters, films, audiotapes, and assorted other material.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is unprocessed and remains in original order. Accessible by special permission only.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has the papers of a number of notable architects and industrial designers. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Beckman, Ronald H.

Corporate Bodies

REDE Corp.
Research and Design Institute.


Design, Industrial -- Environmental aspects.
Design, Industrial -- History.
Design, Industrial -- Philosophy.
Design, Industrial -- Social aspects.
Design, Industrial.
Renewable energy sources -- Research.


Rhode Island -- Business

Genres and Forms

Drawings (visual works)
Manuscripts for publication.
Negatives (photographs)


Industrial designers -- United States.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Research and Design Institute Records,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Ronald Beckman, 1994, 2000.

Table of Contents


An inventory has not yet been created for this collection. Please contact the Repository listed above for more information.