Posts tagged ‘Bryan Bell’

SFI12: Design is relational.

Part 5 of 5

The day’s self-described “analyst and scribe” Steven Moore was last to speak to the Structures audience on Saturday. Throughout the day, Moore tracked the topics covered using a spreadsheet, and then ranked the topics by frequency. The ones covered most were: relationships, participation, spatial justice, & organizational structure. Public interest designers are clearly a participatory, activist, and practical bunch!


Moore tracked the topics covered by panelists (and audience members) for his closing remarks

One of Moore’s major takeaways from the day’s presentations was that “outsiders, or ‘valuable strangers,’ can broker knowledge but also adapt [outside] relevant knowledge to local context.” It’s a great framework for thinking about collaboration between all the team members and beneficiaries on a project. Moore also affirmed the opportunity for the SEED Network to be an industry forum “for the accumulation of accessible knowledge,” and to become a truly disruptive platform for the industry.

On the topic of organizational structure, Moore wisely noted that “there has not yet been enough focus on new, sustainable economic models for public interest design.” I couldn’t agree more. The biggest reason I keep going to Structures is to be a part of the community that will eventually build those models.

April 8’s daily design idea is Moore noted that “opportunity” was an important but underrepresented topic at this year’s Structures. What opportunities for social change design do you see?

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April 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

SFI12: Quantifiable impact.

Part 4 of 5

The third panel was full of projects with clearly recognizable social, environmental, and economical impact. BNIM Architecture’s SEED award winning Bancroft School Revitalization was the first project presented, including heartfelt anecdotes by the neighborhood association’s president, Sandra Hayes. One of her biggest takeaways from this project is that “to be a change agent, you have to build relationships.” Tim Duggan, the landscape architect on the project and a long-term collaborator with BNIM, described another challenge for the team: creating a design language for Manheim that is distinct but still local. Duggan admitted that it’s a tricky but very important line to navigate.

rendering of Bancroft School Revitalization by BNIM and Make It Right

The next speaker was Green Guide for Health Care co-founder Gail Vittori, who realized 12 years ago that “no one was really connecting human health & the built environment.” The work that she has done and encouraged others to do (including some great progress by my employer, Perkins+Will!) has moved healthcare facilities forward by leaps and bounds. Now, the standard for hospital design is finally shifting toward healthy food, water and energy savings, and carcinogen free building materials. When asked about mobilizing this type of change, specifically though the effect of a “multiplier,” Vittori shared that employee retention in a powerful motivator in healthcare; statistics show that nurses stay in their jobs longer when there’s a green commitment from their employer, and hospitals clearly understand the value of lower turnover.

The always entertaining Pliny Fisk, co-founder of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, also shared some pieces of his portfolio. His project goals are strongly rooted in social impact and understanding, making him and Vittori (his wife) quite the power couple of public interest design. With his projects, Fisk said that his aim is for clients to think “that crazy American, he actually understands who we are as a culture.” In my opinion, it’s a goal that’s far from crazy.

MASS Design Group aims for triple bottom line impact with all their projects, including construction of housing for Butaro Hospital’s doctors

Michael Murphy and Tanya Paz were up next, presenting MASS Design Group’s SEED award winning Nyanza hospital. Murphy shared that designing “healthier environments” was the primary goal in founding the non-profit firm, a goal that has definitely been achieved with their celebrated Butaro hospital. The Nyanza project has many of the same goals as Butaro, but is located on a much tighter site, making it both a challenging and very rewarding project to work on.

When the audience asked this panel how we can improve legislation to make healthier cities, several great answers were offered. BNIM’s Sam De Jong reaffirmed the power of seeing the local community as a partner. Duggan reminded the audience to vote! And moderator Michael Gatto added by saying that we all need to be “solutionary” in our approaches.

April 7’s daily design idea is a quote by Make It Right’s Tim Duggan: “the moment you quantify the benefits, the bean counter will understand the value of tree hugging.”

April 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

SFI12: Beneficiaries as participants.

Part 3 of 5

The second panel focused on Participation. Architecture for Humanity‘s program coordinator, T. Luke Young, kicked off by introducing AFH and the approach they take: “We don’t call ourselves designers; we like to be thought of as catalysts… in a global village.” AFH design fellow Diego Collazos continued by discussing the SEED award winning work he is doing at the Maria Auxiliadora School in Peru. A personal highlight of the project was how Collazos and his team asked students to stick green notes on the parts of the building that are good, and red notes on the parts of the building that are bad. This struck me as such a simple but effective technique for getting feedback, especially from children.

photo of the Maria Auxiliadora School

Tulane City Center‘s SEED award winning project, Grow Dat youth farm, was presented next by Emilie Taylor and Scott Bernhard. Their team empowered the youth to study “the logic of the site,” which informed many design choices, such as situating the building in the worst spot for growing vegetables. Separately, Bernhard also shared that Tulane’s admission rates increased 400% after integrating service-oriented curricula after Hurricane Katrina, such as the projects of City Center. There was a shared feeling of hope between the panelists and audience that other institutions would notice, and follow in Tulane’s footsteps.

photo via Nola.com of planting at Grow Dat youth farm

The panel wrapped up with Anne Frederick, the founding director of New York’s Hester Street Collaborative. In addition to introducing the audience to HSC’s advocacy work for the Lower East Side’s waterfront (which included a mobile scale model that residents can interact with!), Frederick also shared questions that she’s developed with the Center for Urban Pedagogy to help social change designers frame their projects. Their number one question is a critical but too often overlooked one: Is there a need for the project? (In the case of the SEED award winning projects, I’d guess that the answer is a resounding “yes!”).

Hester Street Collaborative’s “Waterfront on Wheels

April 6’s daily design idea is that “instructive failure” is pervasive in design for social good, particularly when the participant pool is large; an observation articulated by the Tulane City Center team but shared by everyone at Structures.

April 6, 2012 at 9:13 pm Leave a comment

Augmented Tweeting: Structures for Inclusion 12

I live tweeted the main day of this year’s Structures for Inclusion 12 (SFI12), hosted by UT Austin, but I also thought it would be fun to share a fuller version of those tweets here (particularly with all the vowels and grammar added back in). Hope you enjoy!


the range of social issues that could (and should) be addressed by designers

Part 1 of 5

Bryan Bell kicked off the Saturday session of Structures by talking about this year’s theme, “Design is Relational.” This theme was inspired by Sergio Palleroni’s presentation at last year’s Structures, regarding the fact that it’s often the non-physical effects of the design process that have the most lasting impact. Bell specifically noted that strengthening relationships within the industry and advancing our processes for collaboration are both essential going forward. “Creativity makes a bigger & healthier pie out of limited resources.” We can do more with less by working together better.

From there, Barbara Brown Wilson took the stage and reflected on past links between social change and physical space. Wilson highlighted the Disabilities Movement as a highly successful effort to transform standards for the built environment, and pointed out that we are currently in a relatively undefined proto-movement (which has yet to create that same level of disruptive impact). The SEED Network, which Wilson helped found, is certainly a step in the right direction. While the network has evolved into a platform for “knowledge brokering,” it was originally conceived as a “bat signal” for communities to reach out to when they needed design services. Providing services to these communities is obviously still the ultimate goal.

This year’s featured speaker, the amazing Coleman Coker, followed. He primarily focused on designing ethically, in response to the earth (something he’s been doing for over 30 years), in contrast to designing based on aesthetic judgment or taste. I found it incredibly inspiring to hear Coker speak about the social and environmental elements of his work, especially as the two are so integrated for him.

April 4’s daily design idea is Coleman Coker’s concluding thought: “if architecture is done well, it brings us closer to the world.”

April 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm 3 comments

“A dignified house, a beautiful house, a house that everybody likes – not just architects.”

To be widely appreciated is just one of the many goals of the $20K House, “an ongoing research project at the Rural Studio that seeks to address the pressing need for decent and affordable housing in Hale County, Alabama.” The goal of this project is a product line of three (or possibly more) houses that can each be built in 3 weeks for $20,000 – equating to $12,000 in materials and $8,000 in labor. But beyond being admirably cost effective, the $20K Houses will also employ local labor, use locally sourced materials, and (as I mentioned) be designed to have overall value to a huge variety of people – most importantly, the residents of the houses themselves and the larger Hale County community.

rendering of a 20K House from March 2011

Presented by Andrew Freear, a professor at Auburn and director of its Rural Studio program, the $20K House is one of many projects that I learned about at this year’s Structures for Inclusion conference. Titled “Structures for Inclusion 10+1,” this is the eleventh conference hosted by Bryan Bell and his organization Design Corps, a major force behind the SEED Network. The design priorities for the $20K House line up perfectly with the goals of the SEED Network, which fundamentally exists to promote a triple bottom line approach to architecture (i.e. Social, Economical, and Environmental design).


Later in the conference Sergio Palleroni, founder of the BaSIC Initiative and professor at Portland State University, noted that a major benefit of taking this approach with your projects is that the SEED priorities communicate easily to all stakeholders and to potential investors, which can’t always be said for the traditional priorities of architects. As someone who strongly believes that architects need to more clearly articulate their potential ROI to clients, I couldn’t agree more.

March 26’s daily design idea is the SEED Vision: “Every person should be able to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community.” And be able to live in a house that they like.

This is post 1 of 7 recapping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, an annual conference focused on design for social good.

March 26, 2011 at 7:23 pm Leave a comment

“The design has yet to begin.”

The description for the Architecture for Change Summit was more of a rally cry, urging potential registrants to “join architects, developers and affordable housing activists to address the affordable housing crisis.” It was incredibly appropriate that almost all of the speakers presented lectures about actionable strategies for change.

One of these speakers was Bryan Bell, founder and executive director of Design Corps. Bell made reference to the work of Howard Gardner, whose research spans topics such as ethics, the human mind, and educational performance. One gem from Gardner’s website is “the key to good work is responsibility—taking ownership for one’s work and its wider impact,” an idea that Bell highlighted while urging architects to both practice good design but also articulate its definition. The SEED Network, established in major part through Bell’s efforts, is definitely a great step in that direction.

Casius Pealer, Regional Director-Gulf Coast for Builders of Hope, also focused on the importance of articulating our profession’s standards. With advanced degrees and public interest experience in both architecture and law, Pealer spoke with conviction on the need to get architecture’s Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct up to speed with that of law or medicine. He then opened up the floor by asking if access to design is as important as access to legal representation or medical treatment – leading to one of the most dynamic audience discussions of the entire summit.

Pealer’s kick-off slide read “The design has yet to begin, but the architecture is already there.” While certainly appropriate literally, he also meant it in a broader sense. What both Pealer and Bell seemed to entreat is September 22’s daily design idea: as a profession, we need to start taking thoughtful ownership of our work and its impact.

left photo of Design Corps’ migrant-farmworker housing project, from Metropolis Magazine courtesy of Bryan Bell; right photo of Builders of Hope relocating a donated house originally set for demolition, from the Wall Street Journal courtesy of Builders of Hope

This post is 1 of 7 within a series exploring Public Interest Architecture.

September 22, 2010 at 8:04 pm 1 comment


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