Posts tagged ‘public interest’

Congrats to the winners of the 2012 SEED Competition!

via (January 27, 2012):

“The 6 winning projects along with 13 honorable mentions were selected from a field of 45 submissions from 14 countries. According to the press release, ‘The award winners and honorable mentions…offer tangible evidence of how design is effectively playing a role in addressing the most critical issues around the globe…Each project team carefully identified a community’s needs and priorities, then maximized the use of resources to strategically address these.'”

Announced last month by the SEED Network, the following six projects have been selected as winners of this year’s SEED Competition (images above begin at upper left and go clockwise):

Bancroft School Revitalization, Kansas City, Missouri. Team includes BNIM Architecture + Planning, Dalmark Development and Management Group, Make it Right, Green Impact Zone, Historic Manheim Park Association, JE Dunn Construction, and Truman Medical Group.

Owe’neh Bupingeh Preservation Plan and Rehabilitation, Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. Team includes Atkins Olshin Schade Architects and The Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority.

Grow Dat Farm, New Orleans, Louisiana. Team includes Tulane University City Center, Grow Dat Youth Farm, and New Orleans City Park.

Escuela Ecologica Saludable Initiative: Parque Primaria, Lima, Peru. Team includes University of Washington (Department of Landscape Architecture, Department of Global Health, School of Forest Resources, Global Health and Environment Fellows), Architects Without Borders- Seattle, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos/ Fundacion San Marcos, Escuela Pitagorus #8183, COPASED de Zapalla, and Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar Jorge Alarcon.

Nyanza Maternity Hospital, Nyanza, Rwanda. Team includes MASS Design Group, UNICEF, Rwandan Ministry of Health, Transsolar Kilma Engineering, Nyanza Hospital Administration

Maria Auxiliadora School, Los Calderones, Peru. Team includes Architecture for Humanity, Happy Hearts Fund, ING-INTEGRA Peru, Maria Auxiliadora School, Los Calderones Community, Tate Municipality.

The winning teams will present their projects in just over a month at this year’s Structures for Inclusion conference, being held at the University of Texas at Austin. See you there!

February 22’s daily design idea is celebrate your industry’s accomplishments, and eventually others will too.


February 22, 2012 at 7:51 pm Leave a comment

The 98%.

We may happily aim to diversify our architectural vocabulary, always be learning, better understand economic value, take an entrepreneurial approach, and work collaboratively with our clients – but the question remains of how to start doing all this now and ultimately, in the words of Mike Newman (co-founder of SHED Studio), how to better serve “the other 98% of people that don’t normally receive design services.”

In the “Learning from Communities” panel at the 2011 Structures for Inclusion conference, executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center Dan Pitera displayed a diagram of the current “design ecosystem.” Currently, the base of the economic pyramid and base of the design pyramid are at opposite ends, meaning that the vast majority of design services are going to a small minority of beneficiaries. Larry Kearns, a principal of Chicago-based Wheeler Kearns Architects, monetized the design pyramid: in his experience, projects usually cost clients $2/sf at design base and $200/sf at the point. So part of figuring out how to better serve the 98% has to be figuring out a model that makes a $2/sf project much more economically viable for the designer.

The Design Ecosystem, as described by Dan Pitera at Structures for Inclusion 10+1. Currently, most design work is done for a very small but wealthy portion of the population. The majority of the population commands little wealth, and also receives very few design services.

Platforms like Public Architecture’s 1% program or New York’s local desigNYC are encouraging designers and firms to entirely donate their services, in exchange for having the connection between the service provider and the recipient facilitated for them. Organizations like Designs 4 Dignity and local chapters of Architecture for Humanity are rallying individual volunteers to donate their time and expertise, so that the client receives upfront and schematic design services (often including production of fundraising materials) free of charge. There are also a growing number of 501(c)3 non-profit design firms including Project H Design, Public Architecture, Architecture for Humanity, MASS Design Group, and Structures’ own Design Corps, who are able to serve a wider range of clients because outside donations and tax breaks are supporting their efforts.

And while all of these organizations are doing amazing work, I still think that the design industry can do better. Which is April 1’s daily design idea and the final post recapping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, an annual conference focused on design for social good.

April 1, 2011 at 11:43 am Leave a comment

Mortgages, product lines, and other things architects don’t talk about.

With all of the diverse expert learning that today’s foremost public interest designers are doing, there were a lot of nontraditional terms and topics being discussed at the 2011 Structures for Inclusion conference.

Andrew Freear, director of Auburn’s Rural Studio program, mentioned that his students worked with local banks in Hale County on adapting their mortgage structures; the goal is to make buying the $20K House a more competitive option than long-term renting. Freear also discussed the three versions of the $20K house being developed at the time, which he referred to as a “product line” for customers to choose from.

The “Learning from Communities” panel shared how they identified as capacity builders, rather than structural builders. By engaging in a participatory design process with your beneficiaries, they stressed, you can empower that community to discover how possible change is, even beyond the project at hand.

image via

In discussing Café 524 by Carnegie Mellon’s 2010 Urban Design Build Studio, professor John Folan highlighted how developing the project’s programming (the educational kind – not the spatial kind) was key in advancing the project. It also resulted in significant commitments for funding.

On the “Change Agents and Innovators” panel, Emily Pilloton noted that one of the six tenet’s of Project H’s design process is “design systems, not stuff.” And I really think she meant “systems” in the broadest sense of the word.

March 31’s daily design idea is a quote from The Age of Unreason by Charles Handy: “Words are the bugles of social change. When our language changes, behavior will not be far behind.” By getting more people to talk about design in a way that includes increasingly diverse aspects of social impact, we’ll be helping to advance the industry that much faster.

This is post 6 of 7 recapping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, an annual conference focused on design for social good.


March 31, 2011 at 10:28 pm 1 comment

The experts of public interest design.

The 2011 Structures for Inclusion conference was filled with public interest design experts, but I’m not sure if any of them would ever call themselves that. Panel one’s Sergio Palleroni, co-founder of the BaSIC Initiative and active participant in public interest design since before I was born, said he always feels like a novice in this trade. Panel two’s Rashmi Ramaswamy, co-founder of SHED Studio, confidently told us that “it’s ok not to know what you’re doing.” And featured speaker Andrew Freear, director of Auburn’s Rural Studio program, admitted to taking a hands-on and mistake-filled approach, which allows him to constantly be learning and improving his projects.

Students at the University of Austin, working with Sergio Palleroni and Dr. Leslie Jarmon, prototyped designs for the Alley Flat Initiative in Second Life in 2009 before construction started in 2010. Images via Arch Virtual.

In order to be an expert in public interest design, it seems that what you really need to be is an expert learner (or, in some cases, un-learner). Emily Pilloton‘s new design/build Studio H program is gradually and organically growing in scale (as are her students’ projects), based on what she and partner Matthew Miller learn along the way; and that was the plan from the start. Michael Zaretsky, Emily Roush, and Richard Elliott, un-learned a whole slew of habits while working on the Roche Health Center in rural Tanzania, including the knee-jerk reaction to go to Lowe’s for tools and materials. Dan Pitera, executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, believes that “we must question our assumptions” all the time in this field, particularly when starting work with an unfamiliar community.

Bell Labs’ 1948 prototype of a push-button telephone, which didn’t become “consumer-ready” until 1963. Photo by Dan Forbes, via Wired.

A willingness to always be learning seems to materialize most clearly in the process of prototyping, or otherwise embracing trial and error. Cannon Design principal Trung Le, along with the rest of the “Change Agents and Innovators” panel at Structures, emphasized the value of prototypes and of convincing clients that there needs to be room in the design process for failure. Rashmi Ramaswamy elaborated on this idea by encouraging everyone to phase projects so that they kick off with innovative prototyping and testing, followed by measurement of specific outcomes. In her experience, including these phases is incredibly helpful in managing everyone’s expectations of what’s possible down the line.

March 30’s daily design idea is a succinct piece of advice from Quilian Riano, co-founder of DSGN AGNC: “be flexible, no final solutions.”

This is post 5 of 7 recapping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, an annual conference focused on design for social good.

March 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm 1 comment

People and planet (and profit, too).

Another recurrence at the Structures for Inclusion conference was a sense of uncertainty around economic value. In the sometimes bleeding heart field of public interest design, it’s regrettably common to find people that are so enthusiastic about making a difference that they’ve failed to consider how to financially support (or even gain from) their efforts in a sustainable manner. As you may know, I’m a big believer in making a living and a difference simultaneously, but I also readily admit that that’s not yet a straightforward process.

image by Christian Guthier

Andrew Freear is the director of Auburn’s Rural Studio program, and he touched on a few unique financial components of their ongoing $20K House project during his presentation at Structures. Part of the students’ research has been determining the cost of living in a $20K House; the current estimate is approximately $608/month, including the mortgage. (The studio has also reached out to local banks to see what can be done to further improve the mortgage rates.) Another interesting, and yet to be answered, challenge is what to do when a $20K House is so well designed and built that it’s appraised for more than $20K. When that happens, can you still justify selling it for $20K? And if you sell it for the higher rate, how could you most effectively use that profit?

Either way, part of Rural Studio’s work is not to give the product away for free. Quilian Riano, co-founder of the critical research and design collaborative DSGN AGNC and studio professor at Parsons, also noted that the most effective public interest designers are not merely providing charity. By selling products, services, systems, or anything else to a community (along with a loan structure that will also generate economic activity, for example) you can improve the impact of your work both on your beneficiaries and on yourself.

dusk photo of Windsor Super Market, a farmers’ market structure designed and built by students in the Studio H program

Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H Design, also applies the converse in their new design/build Studio H program in Bertie County, NC. While the program is primarily educational, offering high school and college course credit to juniors in high school, the students are also paid for work done during the summer (when they build their projects that have been designed and workshopped throughout the previous months). While the students are obviously beneficiaries of the program, the value of their design and construction work can also be grasped that much better with the additional perk of a paycheck.

March 29’s daily design idea is design for people, planet, and profit (and document your contributions to all three).

This is post 4 of 7 re-capping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, a conference promoting the design of socially, economically, and environmentally healthy architecture.

March 29, 2011 at 10:47 pm Leave a comment

“Human capital is one of the best assets we have.”

Another theme that ran throughout the Structures for Inclusion conference was the enormous value of taking an entrepreneurial approach with community-driven projects. Underserved populations still function as marketplaces with unique needs and priorities, and resource analysis is a critical step even in an environment where resources seem (on the surface) to be depleted but initial enthusiasm levels seem limitless. Thinking about capital and assets (like in Thomas Fisher‘s quote) unfortunately isn’t something that comes naturally to all designers; but the ones making social change seem to have a knack for it.

SHED Studio’s SEED Competition-winning design and master plan for a proposed Growing Home campus, presented by the studio’s co-founder Rashmi Ramaswamy, was a project started in response to the Englewood neighborhood’s widespread demand for more jobs, healthier food, and a defined economic district. The fact that LISC funding was available for urban agricultural projects in the area was also a key factor.

rendering by SHED Studio for Growing Home

The Café 524 project (another SEED Competition winner) by John Folan and his students in Carnegie Mellon’s 2010 Urban Design Build Studio, primarily responded to an unarticulated need for better third spaces in low income areas of Pittsburgh. The project’s scale, like many others done through this CMU program, was inherently constrained by the number of students and the hours available. Being (optimistically) realistic from the outset allowed the team to more efficiently and effectively achieve results.

rendering of CMU’s 2010 Urban Design Build Studio’s Café 524

Because the projects featured at Structures are all clearly skewed toward design for the social good, the people behind them (including those mentioned here) should perhaps be described as social entrepreneurs instead of designers. Greg Dees, one of the pioneers of institutionalizing the field of social entrepreneurship, is paraphrased in the book Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know in a description of the fundamental actions of a social entrepreneur.

March 28’s daily design idea is the the list of those actions: “create public value, pursue new opportunities, innovate and adapt, act boldly, leverage resources [you] don’t control, and exhibit a strong sense of accountability.”

This is post 3 of 7 recapping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, an annual conference focused on design for social good.

March 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm 1 comment

Community-driven vs. community-based design.

One of the many commonalities among presenters at this year’s Structures for Inclusion conference was their commitment to working collaboratively with (as opposed to simply for) their clients. Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, captured this difference by separating 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 involves bringing in community members for anything from design development to construction.

Presenting on the related “Learning from Communities” panel was Michael Zaretsky, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, who spoke with Emily Roush and Richard Elliott about the Roche Health Center in rural Tanzania. The project is designed to be zero-energy, easily reproducible, low-cost, and durable, and is based on some very extensive research (including research within the local community). As a result, the center was built using only local materials and local construction techniques. Michael, Emily, and Richard agreed that the massive impact (present and future) of the Roche Health Center and the overall smoothness in the construction process would never have been possible without developing and sustaining relationships with local individuals, who will continue to contribute enormously to the center’s success.

photo of over-sized gutter being constructed for collecting water for the rare but heavy rainfall, from the now open Roche Health Center

Part of developing these local bonds is bringing your own information, skills, and other assets to the project. Using the tools of the design discipline while simultaneously engaging with the community is critical; “these two are not mutually exclusive,” encouraged Dan Pitera, executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center and a ddi favorite.  One especially valuable contribution – highlighted by both Sergio Palleroni and Brent Brown, founding director of bcWorkshop – is a design team’s ability maintain continuity in community activity during project development and construction. For example, bcWorkshop’s SEED Competition-winning project for Congo Street in Dallas involved temporarily placing residents in a holding house on the same block while construction was being done on their homes. This minimized disruption to the residents’ daily routines and to their relationships with their neighbors.

photo of the holding house on Congo Street, by bcWorkshop via Arch Daily

March 27’s daily design idea sums up the core advice from the “Learning From Communities” panel: when doing community-driven design, you’ll be most successful if you partner with locally respected organizations (and individuals), bring your own assets to the table, and demonstrate a sustained commitment to the community.

This is post 2 of 7 recapping Structures for Inclusion 10+1, an annual conference focused on design for social good.

March 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm 1 comment

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