Posts tagged ‘relationships’

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?

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

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

“Why We’re All Designers”

“Why We’re All Designers” is a concise and fantastic article by Laura Weiss, Vice President of Service Innovation for the Taproot Foundation, published in Change Observer. While I highly recommend reading the whole thing, below is my favorite section:

“Without an appreciation of the design process, it is difficult for someone who has a stake in the outcomes to be a productive participant. Design, and the professions that engage in it, are still pretty exotic to most of the American public…. So when the concept of “design thinking” was introduced to the business world more than a decade ago, it became hugely popular. Designers started promoting the tools of their trade as applicable to core business decisions, and this education has enabled more productive collaborations between designers and their clients, as well as product managers and their bosses. Both translate into better outcomes in the form of successful commercial products.”

illustration based on Peter Drucker’s Paradigm of Change Model, from ZURBlog

March 24’s daily design idea is Weiss’s concluding thought: “When such capabilities are widely developed within the social sector, we’ll be able to say that we’re all designers too. To thrive, we’ll have to be.”

March 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm 1 comment


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