May 13, 2008

Some Closing Thoughts

For my final blog entry for 1701, I would like to comment on a few things I picked up on in this class that I found to be most important/memorable/applicable. From every lecture, guest lecture, film, and discussion session, I learned something valuable. Some were 'better' than others, but each was interesting, thought-provoking, and informative.
Perhaps the most important lesson that I took from the class was that, as Jennie Winhall's essay discusses, design is political; thus, designers are activists whose work embodies an ideology. One of my favorite quotes taken from the class is Jennie Winhall's assertion, "Design is not a neutral, value-free process." I think that this short excerpt sums up the "moral" of the course, so to speak, that the work of the architect can change the world for the better. Ozayr, James Wheeler, Della, and many of the readings and films outlined this lesson well for me. The coursework helped me to understand the real impact that design has on people's lives. It isn't, like I assumed coming into this course, simply another "profession," but in many ways a position of public service. The Millenium Development project allowed us to dig even deeper into a specific avenue in which design makes a difference. I thoroughly enjoyed the project. Researching our two-fold problem of a shortage of low-income housing in the Twin Cities and the current environmental crisis was a fascinating process. It was really exciting digging into books on sustainable design strategies written for architects. Overall, I feel that the course had a really good approach to defining architecture in a very real and human yet complex and sophisticated context.

May 5, 2008

An Odd Couple? Technology & Architecture

The relationship between technology and architecture has been a bittersweet one. Scholars of architectural theory have debated the appropriate role of technology in the field of architecture for ages. In my architectural history class with Professor Rachel Iannacone, I've been exposed to the rather bitter battles over the ages over the role of the "machine" in architecture. We learned about the Arts & Crafts movemement being a backlash against the Industrial Revolution's embrace of new technologies in architecture (namely steel, glass, and mass production techniques). The craftsman's touch versus the mechanized look serves as a stark contrast between, say the architecture of the DeStijl architect Theo von Doesburg and William Morris of the Arts & Crafts movement. Upon studying both sides of the argument, I personally believe that theorists from both radical pro-mechanization and reactionary anti-mechanization camps have brought legitimate arguments to the table.

Those in favor of embracing mechanization can rightfully argue that the machine brings good design to the common man by vastly lowering production cost. Furthermore, they argue that it creates pure geometries which cannot be created by the craftsman without the proper tools. Pure geometric forms are essential to Cubism, Purism, and much of modernist art and architecture. They also argue, as Ozayr's lecture outlined, that technology allows an "escape from primitive helplessness of the will," (I like Ozayr's word choice). Other legitimate arguments from the pro-machine camp are that the machine conserves and minimizes our use of energy, which is a huge plus with today's energy crisis.

On the other hand, the anti-machine camp can argue that the machine creates an alienation from materiality and renders the inhabitant unable to see subtle details in the architecture. They also argue that the increased speed in the machine's design process doesn't necessarily create a better design. The camp can also legitimately argue that the machine is neither additive nor subtractive, but "ecological," as Neil Postman puts it in his book. Ultimately, they are asserting that new technological advances completely replace old technologies. They cannot coexist with old technologies, so regardless of the value of the old technology, the new one will consume it. Technology can sometimes be good, they concede, but it can also be very bad. Ozayr illustrated this point well in showing two different pictures of "mobile homes"; one row of luxury motor homes at an upscale RV park and next to it a photograph of the row of junk trailers in a refugee camp. They argue that technology has created architecture which lacks the imprint of the human touch; thus an emotionless, cold, and depressive architecture that doesn't uplift its inhabitants. They point to the monotony of suburbia and the the pre-fabricated boxes we call homes. They argue that the machine is ultimately taking over the role of architect in many respects, over time rendering the human designer obsolete. David Newton well-illustrated this prospect in his guest lecture.

So, as I really agree with all above points from both sides of the aisle, I would have to label myself a centrist when it comes to the politics of pro/anti mechanization. I can honestly acknowledge the validity of both sides. I think Ozayr said it best, himself also taking a centrist point of view on the subject: "The ultimate lesson here is to be skeptical of new technologies because they can greatly after how we think with things and alter the nature of community." A healthy level of skepticism is always necessary when confronted with a new change; not just in architecture, but in life in general. But a healthy level of openness must also counteract this skepticism.

May 2, 2008

MDG Goal 4 Presentation Response

Sarah and Krista's project addressing Goal 4 (Reduce child mortaility) was a very informative presenation. The statistics they brought to the table were really quite shocking; a common piece of all of our presenations. The fact that 13,054 children die in the time we were in lecture today was particularly eye-opening. In discussing Sierra Leone's under-5 mortaility rate of 270 deaths per 1000 children, the group clearly defined the problem as a serious crisis. The widespread threat of Malaria lacking anything of ample magnitude currently being done to truly remedy the problem was well-defined by the group and solutions thoroughly analyzed. 39% of the population using inadequate sanitation facilities and 80% not using mosquito nets can easily be remedied; the group had some excellent points to make here. It really struck me when they explained how the problem and its solutions are widely-known, and that the acutal execution of these solutions is the real challenge. It was the simplicity of the solutions that really caused me to wonder why this country is still experiencing the crisis of child mortality. An adequate amount of mosquito nets, nutritious food, and immunizations would solve this problem. It really isn't that costly or complex. It simply takes people and/or governments to have a heart and take action to help their brothers and sisters in need. This is very much like the problems we addressed in our project; sustainable building strategies are widely known and have already been brought to the table, so our challenge was to convince our audience that these sustainable solutions CAN feasibly be applied to high-density urban housing. I enjoyed how they included a set of organizations to join and actions that can be taken by "the common man." Their group was unique in this, as the rest of us focused more on what can be done by governments, architects, and those in charge. I think their message reached the audience at a more personal level than the other presentations.

Overall, I really liked how the group organized their presentation: beginning with a well-defining the problem, followed by a thorough listing of possible solutions and an in-depth analysis of a few key solutions, and finally, ending with what they foresee as the benefits of the execution of these solutions. It was very much how we chose to organize our project, and I felt it worked well in all of the projects that chose to do so. I commend the group, and everyone who presented today, for a very thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the Millenium Development Goals. I hope that our audience of peers took our call to action to heart. We all learned alot in our own research as well as that of the other groups. To be honest, I didn't even really know what the Millenium Development Goals were before this class. I now feel that I know enough to educate others about them, which I hope to have the further opportunity to do in the future; be it in the formal sense at my church or something, or just in conversation with a few curious people.

In addition....
I just viewed the video today when I opened Ozayr's email. It was very well done! Great job, group! You found some great images to document the problem at hand, playing well with the emotional sensory qualities of well-chosen image and sound.

March 30, 2008

07 Project Title Page Design Options

I've used Adobe Creative Suite to design these three title page options for my group's millenium development project. For these three designs, I've drawn inspiration from publications and presentations which I've found to be clean and neat in their design, utilizing white space and avoiding overuse of ornamentation.

My three designs vary in their emphasis of images or white space, use of color, and general layout. My first design is a horizontally-oriented page, which would work well for the introductory slide of our slide show as well as for the first page of our hard copy pamphlet. I like the crisp modern feel to the page, as well as its colorful visual appeal. I chose two images with the intent of representing both facets of the problem we are exploring solutions to: the shortage and grim state of low-income housing (specifically in Minneapolis) and the threats on the health of our environment. I created all three designs in Adobe InDesign CS3 and converted into a PDF which can be viewed using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Download file

My second design is oriented vertically. This design is definitely my cleanest. It has alot of white space and very few images. I think its cleanliness and simplicity represents well our project's theme of environmental sustainability. The three small images I have included are visible and eye-catching but not dominant. With its vertical orientation, it would work nicely as is for the cover page of our hard copy, but its scale would need to be altered before it could be used as our presentation's first slide.

Download file

Also oriented vertically is my third design. This design is quite different from my second design, with very little white space in comparison; a clear emphasis on the four rectangular images making up a square on the upper-middle of the page. A droplet of water represents our project's focus on the conservation of environmental resources in addressing the problem of high-density low-income housing in Minneapolis. The flourescent lightbulb represents our examination of current environmentally-friendly building materials. The image of the Cedar-Riverside Towers are represenative of our project's examination of problematic existing low-income housing in Minneapolis. Finally, the image of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is represenative of our careful analysis of individual case studies of success stories in sustainable architecture. What I really like about this last one is the powerful meaning associated with each image, with each image making up one sector of the dominant square block consuming most of the page. Like my second design, I would need to alter this page in order to use it for our slide show.

Download file

March 7, 2008

06 Term Project Graphic Style Planning

As Ozayr has stressed in class on numerous occasions, and Design Fundamentals I hammered in pretty firmly last semester, the ability to present your work in a clean, aesthetically pleasing fashion is a necessity for designers. Allan Chochinov in "1000 words for design students" asserts, "And no matter how good a designer you are, without a certain level of presentation skills, nobody will ever know."

Photographer Janet Killeen, "known for capturing topics of social importance around the world", put together a very powerful, clean, and nice-looking web site design. The image below is her web design included in her e-portfolio on Gravitate Design Studio's website. She indicates in the caption that "The challenge was to do something very edgy and unique, but not allow the design to overpower the photography." I really like her emphasis on strong, anthropological inquiry through photography in documenting a social issue. She brings viewers into a too-close-for-comfort view of an issue of social justice, which is a successful attention-grabbing technique. Our group, in our attempt to document applications of sustainable architecture in low-income urban housing, could take her photography-based graphic layouts as primary inspiration in considering the graphic style of our presentation.

Jay Gandhi and Kevin Egan's advertisement for US Airways featured in CMYK Magazine is a bold, crisp, and clean. The bizzare reversal of the ordinary (flipping the United States map upside down) not only catches the attention of the viewer, but it makes a strong statement. In this particular case, it is making a marketing pitch, but the idea of creating an abstract graphical paradox is one that we could certainly use in our examination of sustainability and inner city public housing.§_id=22&Entry=219&Type=2&Issue=39

Goran Krstic's "Self Portrait" was featured as the cover art for CMYK Magazine Issue 38. Krstic is a student at Pratt Institute. What intrigues me about his graphic design is the highly abstract richness of the layout. It incorporates a vast palllette of varying color, lines, shapes, and textures in its bizzare narration of the artist's life. I admire his use of graphical metaphor to tell something about himself, and believe that we could employ a similar technique in telling the "story" of the once-thought-to-be bizzare marraige of sustainability and low-income housing.§_id=22&Issue=38

The personal record collection of Clifford Soltze of Soltze Design Firm in Boston, struck me as interesting. The fact that a designer collects record covers for inspiration is a good indication that the graphic design of such are very valuable. Today, record covers have become CD covers and MP3 album icons, but have changed in their purpose very little. I have always liked the highly abstracted intellectually creative visual responses to the design problem of graphically representing a music album. Our millenium development group faces a similar challenge in graphically representing the complex issues of sustainability in urban low-income housing in one cohesive graphic presentation.

The cover illustrations and designs for Canada Law Book's legal resources catalogue, designed by "On the Water Communications," is featured on What I really like about this graphic is the powerful juxtaposition of the natural (a leaf in this case) and the man-made (in this case, the intricate crafted golden ornamental plaque). It is not a dominance of either element, but a harmonious co-existance of the two objects to create one beautiful image. This is essentially what we're researching for the Millenium Development Project; the harmony of sustainability and urban low-income housing.

This proposed CD cover design titled 'Sharing Secrets' is a product of "Dancing Eyes Design." What I like about this design is the boldness and textural roughness of the image. I really think it could possibly translate into a good representation of our urban issue. The abstraction and complementary relationship of the image and supporting text is nice. Perhaps we could create a similar graphic effect when documenting the present conditions of low-income housing.

Nathan Brightbill's MLA (Masters of Landscape Architecture) Portfolio for the University of Washington College of Architecture & Urban Planning is a very nice composition. I particularly like this page titled, "Housing Design/Affordable Housing," as it is related to the topic of our term project. The page is layed out well; very professional, clean, and flowing. I particularly like the palcement of the title and short description of the prompt/design problem on the top bar. The plan and accompanying perspective sketch are also very clean and occupy the page well. I think that a layout similar to this would do the main slides/pages of our presentation justice.

February 29, 2008

Me, Myself, and the Built Environment

"The fundamental source of all our knowledge, however, still remain rooted in nature. That is to say that nature, as our first environment, was our primordial source of external knowledge and the subject of our speculation about ourselves in relation to all else." - Norman Crowe, "Nature and the Idea of a Man Made World," Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997 p. 4.

I couldn't begin to count how many times people have interrogated me on the issue of why I am pursuing a degree in architecture. When I have struggled to provide them with a straight answer, they are often dissatisfied. But unlike many of my friends and fellow college students, I am simply unable to say, "I'm going into math because I got good grades in high school algebra," or "I'm going into teaching because I like working with kids." Don't get me wrong; I do have reasons as to why I am pursuing an architectural degree. Actually, I have several reasons for doing so, making it very difficult to provide someone with a simple answer. A complex set of life experiences coupled with my inborn personality traits has infused, I believe since I was very young, a keen interest in my environment; the built environment in particular. This attentive observation of my environment has shaped my growth and childhood development.

While one's inborn personality traits are certainly highly influential on determining one's values, I am a firm believer that one's environment--both designed and natural--profoundly shape the human being. Think of someone you know very well and imagine that person had been born and raised in China. Would that person--biologically the same person you know--be the same person had his or her life experiences been so drastically different? You could personally attempt to answer this question for yourself with a close examination of the various experiential factors shaping who you are.

My Childhood Home from 1995-2006 in Detroit Lakes Neighborhood

I grew up in small town Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where the population is currently just under 8,000. Detroit Lakes is truly a beautiful community, rich in many respects. Consisting of predominantly Scandinavian and German heritage with a fairly sizable Native American community, White Earth Reservation, nearby, Detroit Lakes is culturally unique. While representing a rather small demographic of the global population, the area doesn't fall short in expressing its heritage. Historical vernacular architecture from the Norwegian and German lands along with elements of traditional Native American construction is intermingled in the area, and currently being juxataposed with modern.

Detroit Lakes Community Pavilion The community pavilion in my hometown architecturally embodies my core value of neighborliness and community interaction. Such architecture designed for the common good in my hometown have created, in me, a strong belief in social responsibility. My image of myself as one cell in the living organism that is our planet Earth has been shaped by my childhood built environment. I view myself and fellow man as part of the framework of the human race and the clockwork of intelligent life on Earth. In the same way, we human beings are part of the framework of living things, in the clockwork of the evolution of life on Earth. These values are well-represented in the Cheers theme song, as I often find myself wanting to take a weekend trip away from the big city and "go where everybody knows my name."

Typical Lake Home Architecture that engages its natural surroundings in some way or another has always appealed to me, likely due to the large number of lake homes, cabins, and rural farm houses that are commonplace in and around Detroit Lakes. Coming to Minneapolis this year was quite a change from the norm architecturally speaking. Unless architecture engages in some way with nature, I often have a difficult time appreciating it fully, as it's missing one of my key evaluatory elements.

The Cheers Bar Set The set for the hit TV series "Cheers" is a built environment in pop culture that well represents and supports my image of the world at its finest. The interaction of the actors with the set is the kind of human-environment interaction that I grew up in and hope to someday live and work the rest of my life in. The historic brick and dark wood clad bar interior is the kind of historic preservation/restoration architecture that I have been long exposed to, explaining my passion for bringing life back to old buildings and preserving the livelihood and structural strength of existing positive environments. But public life has always had its boundaries in my ideal image...

Tim and Wilson from "Home Improvement" With another reference to pop culture, I point to the interaction of Tim Taylor and his neighbor "Wilson." The physical fence separating the two neighbors' yards serves as a powerful motif in the television series. The fact that Wilson's face is never concealed to the audience or Tim, as he is always seen behind the tall fence or a similar obstruction, doesn't detract from Tim having a strong neighborly relationship with him. He shares his feelings, interests, joys, and sorrows with Wilson while maintaining a physical and mental separation. This separation...

Springfield, "The Simpson's" The fictional built environment of Springfield in the popular TV series well represents the kind of town I grew up in (minus the ridiculous people, of course). Spacious lots in quaint tree-lined neighborhoods, clean streets, plenty of green space, and a well-separated commercial and residential districts are characteristic of the American small town. From my architectural history class, I have discovered that is in the early European suburban model first proposed by Ebenezer Howard in 1898; a sort of fusion of the best aspects of town and country into a new living and working environment. In the small town/suburban city plan that I called home before my move to Minneapolis, I was cultivated to value this kind of blend of city and country; a separate but close civilization.

The Gable Roof Having a long tradition in northern architecture, the gable roof is everywhere to be seen in most of the United States. Its successful conquest of the architectural opposition of winter precipitation has made the gable roof one of the most overlooked and underrated architectural features of our local architecture. My first childhood drawings of houses all featured the gable roof. I thought nothing of it; it was simply what a roof looked like (my limited image of "roof"). Now that I am in architecture school, I have begun to appreciate some of these traditional local methods of conquering everyday architectural (and otherwise) natural oppositions.


Fargo, North Dakota - Historic Broadway Avenue

My life experiences haven't been limited to small town Minnesota, however. My travels have brought me frequently to nearby larger cities. Fargo, North Dakota, is 50 miles west of Detroit Lakes. In my childhood, on average, I traveled with my family into Fargo at least once a month to take advantage of the generous shopping and eating opportunities there. I also traveled to Minneapolis annually or biannually as a child to visit relatives and undertake such activities as watching a Twins game or shopping at the Mall of America. My family vacationed to Florida when I was 10, where I experienced the vast natural phenomena of the Atlantic Ocean along the sandy shores of Coco Beach. This past summer, I took in the deserts of the American Southwest in a visit to my retired grandparents in Green Valley, Arizona.

Gotham City, "Batman" Okay, you may have thought I was finally detracting from pop culture when you first saw the above image. I had to use Gotham City to represent the negativity of the metropolitan built environment in my image of the world. The crime-infested, smog-covered, cramped, unnatural concrete and steel city environment depicted in "Batman," which is a parody of New York City life, has never appealed to me. But it has been this exaggerated image of the city, presented to me through various mediums of pop culture and very occasional trips to certain parts of Minneapolis in my youth, that has created such a negative image. Moving to the city, while not completely changing my image of the city environment, has opened my eyes to the potential beauty in such.

Minneapolis Skyline My first time seeing an image similar to this was during an evening walk along the east bank of the Mississippi River with friends. Words cannot explain the sensual awe I experienced. What I can express is that it was an experience comprable, for me, to seeing such a natural phenomenon as a massive waterfall or the Grand Canyon. While natural phenomena was no stranger to a person who had grown up among the forests, lakes, and rivers of Northern Minnesota, man-made phenomena had never really struck me in such a way that the skyline did that night.

Foshay Tower, downtown Minneapolis Foshay Tower contributes to my growing respect and appreciation for big city life. Seeing the evolutionary story depicting the wonders of man's intelligence over time through architecture is something that cannot be easily done in small town USA. While there is very unique and special architecture there, state-of-the-art works of genius are hard to come by. Completed in 1929, Foshay was designed by the architectual firm Magney & Tusler, Inc., with the intention to imiate the Washington Monument. Wikipedia claims that the tower is considered the "first skyscraper west of the Mississippi." I think what speaks to me is the sight of the once-architectural marvel sitting in the shadows of modern day architecture with much less elegance than it once had, but now possessing a new strong sense of iconic magnificence.

February 22, 2008

Earth Minus You = A Different Planet

I have seen many people, some very close friends and family, struggle with unhappiness, depression, and despair. I have heard the questioning of one's personal worth; the denial of one's impact on the world. This always saddens me, as an optimist and an ambitious individual who quite honestly doesn't understand the pessmistic outlook on life--and particularily the denial of self-worth--that so many unhappy people possess. I would, admittedly, be an awful psychiatric counselor. Despite my inability to relate with people's emotional and mental struggles, I am always able to recommend where such people should turn to in their times of depression and denial of self worth. You may be surprised to know that I send them to their local Blockbuster rather than straight to the mental health center.

Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life is a cinematic classic featuring the amazing talent of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in a profoundly meaningful film addressing the very question of one man or woman's impact on the world. It tells the story of one small town American George Bailey, who from childhood possessed the compelling ambition to see the world. He plans to become an architect and design magnificent bridges and skyscrapers everywhere. However, as George matures, he continues to extend help to whoever needs it at the sacrifice of his dreams: He puts off going to college until Harry graduates from high school to take over the family business, the Bailey Building and Loan Association, essential to many of the poor and disadvantaged in Bedford Falls. This noble decision leaves George a very unhappy man despite finding and marrying the love of his life and having children. Managing the unprofitable but vital-to-the-community Building and Loan company doesn't fulfill George's dreams of becoming a wealthy travelling architect. And with the stock market crash plunging the company into immediate and unexpected debt, George falls into a spiraling depression, eventually attempting suicide on a highway bridge over the icy waters of a river. Sent from Heaven is an angel named Clarence to jump into the river after him. He not only physically saves his life, but proceeds to take George on the invaluable journey through the world as if he had never been born. George's eyes are opened to the profound impact he has had on the world, as he witnesses a city overtaken by the cruel business tycoon Henry F. Potter. The city's poor are living in slums without the existence of George's generous service-oriented Building and Loan company. The town has become one of mass consumption and commercialization; the sense of community and friendly hospitality that George knew was gone. The old dilapitated mansion George bought and fixed up remained dilapitated in the George-less world. Clarence shows him his wife, who without George lives the life of a lonely librarian. His brother is dead since it was George who saved his life when he fell through the ice on a pond as a boy. This much-needed reminder of his self-worth and the amazing impact he has had on the world causes George Bailey to do a complete 360. He realizes that just because he wasn't making alot of money designing world-famous buildings and bridges, he was doing "big" things for the world just as he had always dreamed of doing.

The grainy black-and-white VHS version of Capra's story of George Bailey has been a New Year's tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. Until recently, I have never really realized the awesome personal lessons I have been given to kick off these almost 20 years of my life. This lesson of one's individual impact on the world is one that all people need to learn. Architects have it easy--they see the impact they have had on the world around them in quite literal, physical terms of building or landscape designs become reality. Others have more difficulty with this. That's why Ozayr's blog prompt is so interesting, asking us to ponder how we would still have an impact on our environment if we were released from the constraints of the architecture school program.

I think Capra's film gives me insight into Ozayr's provocation, in that no matter how insignificant one feels, every person--and, delving into today's lecture a bit, THING (something containing matter)--affects the environment in which we live. The way I look at it is that we are all members of the one living organism that is our universe; each of us contributes in some way, either large or small, to the betterment or detriment of our world. So, the very second upon release from the constraints of the architecture school program, I would start affecting the environment just by living and breathing. As long as I am in existence, I am affecting the world. But being the change-the-world kind of ambitious individual that I am, I would do much more than passively be alive.

I would impact my environment wherever I decided to go. In an ideal, utopian sort of situation for me, it would be traveling the world working on global development. To begin my work in development, I would definitely take a trip down to the American Gulf Coast and work on hands-on restoration of the built and natural environment there. But the environment of the Gulf Coast region won't forever be in need of alteration. So I would have to look elsewhere for a permanent place to have a major impact architecturally, physically, and artistically on the environment. I would likely travel to a third world country in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. In such a place, I could immensely impact the environment architecturally, culturally, economically, and socially in some pretty big ways.

For possibility's sake, let's say I choose to take my change-the-world ambitions, free from the constraints of the architecture school, to Liberia. Since 1989, the country has been in a constant state of flux, witnessing two civil wars that have collectively caused a devastated economy and a displaced citizenry. An economy in shambles has consequently created a country of poverty. Adding to this is another disheartening statistic. According to a UNESCO publication, 65% of primary-school-age-children attend school while 24% of secondary-school-age-children are enrolled. As I've discussed in previous blogs, education is something that I view as extremely important for the future of our country and for sake of human progress. I truly believe that addressing problematic education systems has the potential to drastically change the world for the better. A more educated person is more likely to contribute in a larger way to the betterment of his or her environment. More people impacting a bad environment in positive ways can gradually build a good environment.

Children at the Esther Bacon Elementary School, Monrovia, Liberia. November 2004

Children at Feed My People Sponsored Liberian School

African School Building, 2004 Aga Khan Award Winning Design

This award-winning design for an African School house exemplifies the kind of build/design work I would pursue with the purpose of impacting my environment in a positive way outside of the constraints of the architecture school that I am currently held bound by. I really appreciate the use of readily available inexpensive natural materials in combination with durable recycled steel in the construction of this school building. The building provides ample shelter from the elements and relief from the desert sun, giving the school children a decent learning environment.

Typical Existing African School Setup

The sight of these school "buildings" (and I really mean to emphasize the quotation marks) is deeply saddening to me. The fact that most existing Liberian school buildings are in the model of Laugier's primitive hut with no walls and little more than a thatched roof supported by a few sticks poses a serious design problem. In order to learn, children need a well-programmed school building in which to do so. As Christian Norberg-Schulz asserts in his article on "Place," a particular environment with a specific program requires a certain character and spatial organization. The primitive hut doesn't satisfy either of a school building environment's requirements.

February 17, 2008

Millenium Development Goals: Finding Inspiration in Word, Image, and Song

Millenium Development Goal #7 Ensure environmental sustainability

The UN's Specific Intentions: (

Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources

Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water

Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020

Inspirational Images:

Inspirational Quotes:

"The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children." - German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"Our ideals, laws and customs should be based on the proposition that each generation, in turn, becomes the custodian rather than the absolute owner of our resources and each generation has the obligation to pass this inheritance on to the future." - Charles A. Lindbergh in New York Times Magazine, May 23, 1971

"The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value." - former United States President Theodore Roosevelt


Earth Team's Theme Song (by Earth Team)

Green Christmas (by Elf Cottage Elves)

The Miniature Earth (music by Yann Tiersen, video by Donella Meadows)

A Better Future (

Millenium Development Goal #8 Develop a global partnership for development

The UN's Specific Intentions: (

Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction— nationally and internationally

Address the least developed countries' special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction

Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States

Deal comprehensively with developing countries' debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term

In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decentand productive work for youth

In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries

In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies— especially information and communications technologies

Inspirational Images:

Inspirational Quotes:

"We have a moral obligation to help others and a moral duty to make sure our actions are effective." - United States President George W. Bush, address to UN General Assemby, 2005

"In my eyes, Americans as well as other tax payers are quite ready to show more generosity. But one must convince them that their generosity will bear fruit, that there will be results." - Paul Wolfowitz, former World Bank Group President

"In particular, there is a need for the multilateral and bilateral financial and development institutions to intensify efforts to imporove ODA targeting to the poor, coordination of aid and measurement of results." - Monterrey Consensus Statement


The Millenium Development Goals Anthem (by Tayo Tayo Rin)

Where is the Love? (Poverty Version) (music by Black Eyed Peas, video by YouTube user relaxing27)

Cry (music by Hillary Duff, video by YouTube user LittleHotaruChan)

Millenium Development Goal #4 Reduce child mortality

The UN's Specific Intentions: (

Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.

Inspirational Images:

Global Infant Mortality Rates

Inspirational Quotes:

“I came here to show support for all the millions of people in the world who stand to benefit if the Millennium Development Goals are reached, especially the children who will be saved from malaria or Aids, who will grow up healthy, go to school and have the chance to earn their living and enjoy life.? - Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize

"There is a belief that the health MDGs are all about building health centres, ... whereas 55% of infant mortality is down to poor drinking water and hygiene - environmental issues.? - Ian Johnson

“The infant mortality rate is shameful, ... If you didn't know better, you'd think it's a statistic for a Third World country.? - Jay Williams

“It's pure nonsense that a state legislator would think there's nothing he can do to benefit Native Americans. The high infant mortality rate on reservations is due to devastating poverty. Yet the state has not passed any laws in the last several years that would boost any of the health or education programs within the reservation community. As for tribal sovereignty, the only time the state wants to recognize it is when it benefits the state, as in this instance when it allows Senator Napoli to opt out of an intelligent response.? - Charon Asetoyer


March of Dimes Mission Video (by March of Dimes Massachusetts Chapter)

Deep Calls to Deep - Ministry in Malawi (by WorldView International Christian organization) ( Benny Sanders brings goods to orphans in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala (by YouTube user gameplanpros)

February 8, 2008

The Rethinking of Social Design Activism

When prompted to document and advocate a social-design issue in the Twin Cities, I immediately thought of investigating the most obvious and pressing issues facing our society that have had obvious design solutions. Homelessness has prompted architects in the likes of the great Sam Mockbee to design and build innovative inexpensive shelter for the less fortunate. I could write a book about low income housing design in the Twin Cities, much of which is notable, such as our own Ralph Rapson’s Cedar Square West project on Riverside Avenue. Not to underscore the serious nature of homelessness—shelter is a basic necessity that many people lack—but social-design projects that focus simply on building inexpensive shelter to protect people from the elements just don’t thrill me. Necessary? Of course. Noble? Absolutely! Kudos to those who build “shelters? for the homeless. Catalyst for social change? Well, here’s what I don’t throw all of my enthusiasm behind. Finishing such a project is obviously very rewarding. You can say that you put a roof over someone’s head who didn’t have one before. But can you say that you really reshaped the state of society as a whole; that you really made the world a better place to live in? It’s certainly debatable, so please don’t jump on me for saying that I don’t think so. Those people who now have a little more dependable shelter may live a little bit more comfortably, but will their lives really change all that much? If a bunch of architects get together to creatively design them a cheap house out of compressed carpet, will they suddenly land a dependable job to go to every day? Will they decide to leave the gangs and turn from the drugs? Will they seek a higher education? Will they become active contributors in society and noble citizens just because some designers from a faraway land built them a house out of carpet and then went back to their comfortable suburban homes and spacious offices only to forget all about them in a week, thinking that they solved all the world’s problems on their little mission trip? The answer to all of these questions, I believe, is a firm “no.?

To truly have an impact on society, to provoke real social change, workers for social justice must go beyond providing basic essentials to those who lack them. Social designer activists need to reach out in more ways than designing practical inexpensive shelter, but design buildings that will change the landscape of the most dismal places in our society. Inner city America faces not just homelessness, but skyrocketing crime rates, a formidable war on drugs that seems never-ending, racial injustice, and long lines of the unemployed and uneducated at the social services offices. We as designers need to realize that the guy sleeping on a street bench has more problems than homelessness. In order to truly help this man and the millions of men, women, and children like him, we need to design in response to all of their problems. Then and only then will we truly shift the gears of society and create a better social picture.

In our city of Minneapolis, racial and ethnic minorities lag behind white counterparts in education, with 15% of African American and 13% of Hispanic people holding bachelor's degrees compared to 42% of the white population. Median household income among African Americans is below that of white by over $17,000. Home ownership among these minority residents is half that of white, and one-third of the Asian population lives below the poverty line. It is this issue of poverty-stricken inner city minority groups lagging in education that I believe deserves the focus of designer activists. What prompts me to do so is my work with alternative and charter high schools through the service-learning components of both ARCH 1281 and this course. The design of spaces for alternative education for failing inner city kids is something that fascinates me even in the earliest days of my life of design. Last semester, I volunteered at Plymouth Christian Youth Center, or PCYC. The alternative high school is a facility in the poverty-stricken, crime ridden district of North Minneapolis. Not to sound too poetic, but this place is truly a beacon of light that radiates its positive atmosphere for miles. Their website tells a moving story of one student, Larry, who once said he was going nowhere before he came to PCYC Alternative School. Now he's going to college. Previously a habitual truant, Larry never missed a day at PCYC. “And it wasn't just skills in reading, writing and math that he picked up at PCYC, but the values of responsibility and giving back to the community.? The bottom line, explained coordinator Kathleen Butts and the rest of the staff to my group and I, is that many kids just don’t function well in the traditional public schools, especially kids with troubled lives here in the North Minneapolis community. Before the days of alternative learning facilities like PCYC, all of these kids simply failed out of the traditional public schools and were left out in the cold. It was these kids who grew up to be the criminals, homeless wanderers, drug dealers, and victims of suicide of today. Today, some of these kids have been given hope by the innovative, ambitious, progressive thinkers who created new spaces for new education systems for them to learn and grow. But as we can see with previous generations and the effects of their childhood neglect on our society today, the problem still persists and begs further solutions. Designer activists need to design and build more and better PCYC’s. We need to design and build schools for at-risk children in risky communities. We need to design spaces that are safe, embracing of their individual needs, open to their cultural and racial differences, and inviting. We need to design spaces that teach them the academic and life skills that will allow them to break the hellish cycle of poverty by first seeking higher education, then finding stable employment. It will follow that they will form a stable life, abandon drugs and gangs, and contribute to our society in an amazing way. Real social change will become reality in the near future if designer activists focus on the future of the children.

Basically, designer activists need to transform the focus of their attention in the same way as many are urging modern medicine to do—to administer less of the short-term band-aids and more on long-term cures and preventative measures for the ailments facing our society. I look forward to being involved in the long-term solutions to not only the problems facing the Twin Cities, but those facing the global community. I look to Jennie Winhall's essay "Is Design Political?" for inspiration. In it, she writes, "My policy colleagues say they went into politics because they wanted to challenge the status quo and make things better for ordinary people. That's certainly why I went into design."

February 2, 2008

Inspirational Environmental Energy in the City

Such concepts as energy and flow are very complex ideas that have been studied by people of virtually all professions, in every corner of the world, from the first intelligent man to the rocket scientists of today. Many practicality-driven people view the study of these concepts as a search for absolute truth. Mathematicians will search for formulas to calculate flow and transformation of energy in nature. This type of analysis of our environment is, of course, very important and necessary for scientific and technological advancement in our society.

But in my personal opinion, a much deeper and more fascinating study of these natural concepts is undertaken by those who don’t search for absolute truths or calculable formulas, but rather who dissect the natural environment around us to discover how the uniquely fascinating “energies? in the environment affect the human experience, and then react to these energies by taking action. The artist Andy Goldsworthy explores such natural concepts of flow and conservation of energy in the most unconventional and bizarre, yet fascinating ways by visiting various natural sites around the world and receiving artistic inspiration from the natural energies present. “You feel as if you’ve touched the heart of the place. That’s a way of understanding. Seeing something that you never saw before, that was always there but you were blind to it,? says Goldsworthy in his documentary “Rivers and Tides.? To me, the beauty of Goldsworthy’s art is that it is in such simple natural objects—the emotional energies given off by sticks and twigs, icicles, iron oxide chalk—that energizes his inner emotions and prompts him to create truly extraordinary pieces of art out of the very ordinary that surrounds him. This seeing of what you have never seen before and experiencing deep emotional feeling that stimulates first wonder and awe, then sparks imagination, and finally drives you to action by expressing these emotions, is the most profound yet at the same time humbling experience for me. Such experiences invoke me to think about larger things; about the vastness and complexity of nature, about the power of human senses and emotion, and about the immense unknown.

Personally, the urban city environment provides as much energy as the natural environment. While riding the city bus down a busy street, I am often struck by the speed at which life is passing me. I am reminded of the fast pace of modern American society and often inspired to make a personal resolution to slow down and smell the roses, letting the energies of my environment translate into emotional feeling. When walking downtown beneath the towering skyscrapers and tall office buildings, I am always struck with the feeling of being overpowered by the mammoth structures looming over me. Overcoming my emotions in such times is always the personally belittling and humbling realization that I am but one small person, like a small ant, in a very big world; that centering my life around pleasing myself is denying my societal duty to contribute to the betterment of the global community.

Likewise, approaching the downtown district by car or bus from the interstate is almost always a profound experience with environmental energy. From the first glance of the towering skyline and growing gradually closer, I experience an amazing feeling of excitement. Though I’ve experienced it many times, it never fails that the energies of the majestic skyline pull me into the city, in an unavoidable magnetic sort of way.

Additionally, the sight of a tree while strolling an urban city street that is literally surrounded by the concrete and steel of the place often gives off powerful environmental energy. The sight of such reminds me of the ever-presence of the natural, even in the man-made urban environment in which nature is usually seemingly “conquered.? Likewise, witnessing the juxtaposition of new and old structures complementing, or sometimes competing with one another, is rich in energy. These powerful feelings are often times a call to action; to work for a more environmentally-friendly city that embraces the natural world that we have so carelessly neglected. This list could virtually go on, and on, and on. The urban city has always been full of profound energy that has affected me emotionally, many in very powerful ways.