“Nothing about us, without us, is for us.”

September 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm 2 comments

Another inspiring speaker at the Architecture for Change Summit was Maurice Cox, whose career includes being a professor at UVA’s School of Architecture, former Director of Design at the NEA, and former mayor of Charlottesville VA, in addition to leading a few community-oriented architecture and planning firms along the way. The title of this post is a South African proverb, which Cox shared during his Architecture for Change presentation.

A major highlight in Cox’s career is his work with the rural village of Bayview on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a project that eventually became quite high profile in the press. What started as a problem of basic access to clean water ultimately resulted in a multi-year, multi-million dollar community redevelopment project. In the book Design Like You Give a Damn, there is a great interview with Cox about Bayview. A running theme through this interview is the importance of designers being out in the community, both initially (so that the people that need design can find us) and throughout the project (to help give confidence to those who want to change their communities). One of my favorite lines from Cox in this interview is, “We need to be in the places where problems exist.”

Another man who clearly believes in the power of the participatory design process is Hubert Klumpner, a professor at Columbia’s Grad School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, a founding partner of Urban Think Tank, and a speaker at the City Lifters panel discussion (part of MoMA’s upcoming exhibit Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement).

The project that Klumpner spoke about most was U-TT’s Metro Cable project in Caracas, Venezuela. Its main goal was creating access for the city’s poorest neighborhoods (generally located on very steep hills) to the public transportation system. On the panel, Klumpner stressed the importance of engaging the end client early in design projects, an approach resulting in U-TT’s creation of a local task force that was able to produce the basic cable car plan. This concept had numerous advantages over an original plan for building new access roads, including saving up to 30% of one neighborhood’s homes from being demolished for road construction.

September 23’s daily design idea comes straight out of Maurice Cox’s talk, but I’m sure Hubert Klumpner would agree: let’s shift our focus from clients to communities. It’s one of the many ways to “engender a culture that values design excellence in everyday life” instead of in luxury markets alone.

left photo of completed houses in Bayview, by David Tulloch; right photo of Metro Cable, from designboom courtesy of Joaquin Ferrer Ramos

This post is 2 of 7 within a series exploring Public Interest Architecture.


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“The design has yet to begin.” “Now, again, we prefer what is old to what is new.”

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. An architect of change. « Daily Design Idea  |  October 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    […] surrounded by real people who have enacted real change. Some architects are changing the world with participatory design or historic preservation or their own just-do-it approaches. Tons of designers are working on ways […]

  • […] the ideas of “community-driven” design and “community-based” design. Often called a participatory design process within architecture, the community-driven approach relies on a deep, local engagement and usually […]


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