University of MinnesotaSubscribe to Public Interest Design RSS
College of Design Public Interest Design
Public Interest Design: College of Design

Upcoming If You Build It Screening

Mark your calendars: The College of Design: Public Interest Design, Students for Design Activism, and the University of Minnesota AIAS will be hosting a screening of "If You Build It," a documentary exploring the intersections of design, education, and community through the work of Project H, on Tuesday, March 31st at 5:30pm in Rapson 100. Refreshments will be provided, with a panel discussion moderated by Dean Tom Fisher following the movie.

Event Info:
What: If You Build It Screening, Panel Discussion - Refreshments Provided
When: Tuesday, March 31st, 5:30 pm
Where:
Rapson Hall, Room 100
89 Church St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Synopsis from the film's website:

From the director of WORDPLAY and I.O.U.S.A. comes a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education. IF YOU BUILD IT follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, where they work with local high school students to help transform both their community and their lives. Living on credit and grant money and fighting a change-resistant school board, Pilloton and Miller lead their students through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills: it shows ten teenagers the power of design-thinking to re-invent not just their town but their own sense of what's possible. Directed by Patrick Creadon and produced by Christine O'Malley and Neal Baer, IF YOU BUILD IT offers a compelling and hopeful vision for a new kind of classroom in which students learn the tools to design their own futures.

Design for Equity

equity_blog.jpg

The following blogpost originally appeared on the Impact Design Hub website. Written by Barbara Brown Wilson and Katie Swenson (with photos, included here, by Jess Zimbabwe, Metropolis Magazine), the piece serves as the introduction to a longer series of articles on notions of equity in the field of public interest design. You can find the original article here; the next article in the series will be published on March 5th.

Over the past few weeks, news of the closure of Architecture For Humanity has led to many critiques and questions, not only about the future of AfH, but the future of the entire field of public interest design. Inspired in the 1960s by the civil rights movement and maintained by humble practitioners across the globe, this dynamic constellation of practices is not defined by the rise or fall of a single organization or figurehead. Instead of calling the entire field into question, what the response to the closure of AfH serves to highlight are major weaknesses the field is now mature enough to address head on.

Although there are many different practice types and priorities operating under the umbrella of 'public interest design' (or related terms), much of that work is not focused on ameliorating injustice. In order to ensure that the field is concerned with action towards beneficial impact we need a shift in priorities; we need to focus on designing for equity.

Equity means more than just equality; equity means fighting against systemic injustices, breaking down implicit biases, and helping people change their "existing situations into preferred ones," to paraphrase Herbert Simon's definition of design. To be sure, this is no easy feat, but we believe there are two important leverage points through which we can influence this system: 1) evaluating community design work by its equity outcomes and 2) expanding the leadership base so that our collective voice is marked by diversity, not heroism.

EquityStickieNote.jpg

Equity Outcomes
As the field has matured, many practitioners acknowledge the need for more thoughtful critique, a more rigorous focus on equity and impacts, and a better understanding of how this work gets done well. It is time to take stock in what we do, how we do it, and what types of change it creates in the communities we serve. There is not enough critical discussion about the actual impacts of our work; we operate under the assumption that our intention to work in the "public interest" makes our work inherently good. This is not enough.

As our field matures we need to aspire to setting a higher bar of practice - from our individual projects, to our employment practices, to our methods of community engagement. We have to think about how all aspects of our work can contribute to greater equity and social justice. We need to orient the profession more directly to notions of civil rights and collectively hold ourselves accountable to them.

Whats-Your-Action.jpg

Diversity Not Heroism
What is exciting about the moment we find ourselves in now is clarity that the profession no longer needs be defined by the work of one or two large organizations. There are thousands of nonprofit organizations, for-profit entities, and volunteer networks across the globe doing this work well, and without fanfare. Leadership pipelines that amplify this diversity are essential. The voices of younger practitioners, non-architect/planner disciplines, people of color, and grassroots community leaders are still notably absent in this field, and leave the conversation to be driven by only a few perspectives.

If we are to elevate the dialogue related to designing for equity, new platforms are needed in which new voices can contribute to the language, evaluation metrics, principles upheld, and narratives told about this work. And this will not happen until we also have a leadership model that pays attention to more than a few architect-heroes who dominate popular critique.

EquityRetreatAustin1.jpg

Leading By Example
Over the past year, a group of leaders in the field began meeting informally to discuss how they might help bring more visibility to these critical issues. What began as a few friends seeking moments of collective reflection became a working group with two key goals; first to actively commit to equity outcomes, and second to promote diversity of all kinds throughout our field (and in particular, within it's leadership).

This group looks at the field through different lenses and operates at different scales, including Christine Gaspar from the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Jess Garz from the Surdna Foundation, Theresa Hwang from Skid Row Housing Trust, Nicole Joslin from Women.Design.Build, Liz Ogbu from Studio O, Katie Swenson from Enterprise Community Partners, Barbara Brown Wilson from the University of Virginia, and Jess Zimbabwe from the Rose Center for Public Leadership.

We are writing a series of articles to dig into these topics and formulate a fresh approach. Our goal is to elevate the dialogue related to designing for equity by holding up new voices and new perspectives. In the coming weeks we'll share a new article each Wednesday. We invite you all to join, comment, critique, and suggest ideas and topics on how to propel the public interest design movement forward at this critical juncture. Please check back next week and also visit our website, DesignforEquity.org, to sign up for our mailing list and connect to resources.

Resilience Convergence

Resilience_KRE_029.jpg

Resilience Map designed by Eugene Park; photo credit Karl Engebretson


Resilience Convergence was a one-day event held on November 22nd 2014 at the University of Minnesota bringing resilience experts together in a program to learn about the resiliency-focused work going on in Minnesota and explore connections of expertise through interactive exercises, with the aim to develop a more connected and innovative resilience research and education at the University of Minnesota.

What is Resilience? Resilience Convergence drew on the definition proposed by the Rockefeller Foundation: Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.

Participants were invited pre-workshop to offer content (focus of resilience work, geographic scales of work, disruptions and time scales of the work) that was included in a Resilience Map designed by Eugene Park, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design from the College of Design, Unveiled at the event, the Map showed each participant and expert's work factored in the growing body of resilience work. The Map is intended to become an important tool to align collective efforts at the University of Minnesota around resilience.

Resilience_KRE_049.jpg

Richard Graves speaks at the Resilience Convergence conference; photo credit Karl Engebretson

Sponsored by the Office of Vice President of Research from the College of Design, welcome remarks were made by VP of Research Brian Herman, Dean Tom Fisher and the event was facilitated by Richard Graves, Director of the Center for Sustainable Building Research.

The first part of the event was a series of Fish Bowl Conversations framed under the overaching question of: How do you define the challenge of resilience?

#1: What does it mean in your work to create "rapid rebound" or the capacity to re-establish function, re-organize and avoid long term disruptions? (Participants: Fred Rose, Ann Masten, Rolf Weberg)

#2: How do communities create flexibility or the ability to change, evolve, and adapt to alternative strategies in the face of disaster? (Participants: Elizabeth Wilson, Lacy Shelby, Patrick Nunnally)

#3: What types of failures ripple across a system? How do organizations create feedback loops that sense, provide foresight and allow for new solutions to design resilient systems? (Participants: Tom Fisher, Patrick Hamilton, Dr. Carissa Schively-Slotterback)

This was followed by Speed dating and a Splendid Table event: What assets do we have in our community to build resilience? How do you combine diverse perspectives to create resilience projects? (facilitated by Richard Graves, Tom Fisher, Renee Cheng and Maura Donovan)

Attendees paired up with other persons who shared their area of focus for resilience to discuss similarities and differences with their work, and assets in the community and at the university, types of research, classes and projects to build community resilience.

Resilience_KRE_002.jpg

Resilience Map designed by Eugene Park; photo credit Karl Engebretson


The question of resilience has come to the fore in many circles, with a range of interpretations from environmental resilience to resiliency in mental health. When Structures for Inclusion, the Public Interest Design conference declares a theme of 'Resilience of Mind, Body, and Spirit' for its 2015 meeting on April 11 - 12 in Detroit, it must mean that Resilience and PID are intertwined and here to stay. What are your thoughts on the intersection of PID and resilience? Tweet @UMN_PID with your answer!

Written by Virajita Singh, a Sr. Research Fellow and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the College of Design, University of Minnesota

Search for Shelter

This past weekend, over 70 volunteer designers came together in Rapson Hall on the U of M campus for the 29th annual Search for Shelter, a weekend-long design charrette run by AIA-Minnesota that provides pro-bono design services to non-profit organizations focusing on affordable housing in Minnesota.

The event brings professional architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and students together for three days to create a design proposal and present it to the non-profit client. While Search for Shelter began as a nationwide event almost thirty years ago, AIA Minnesota is now one of the few AIA chapters from across the country to still run the event as originally intended.

This year's Search for Shelter began on the evening of Friday, Jan. 30th, with an opening address by some of the organizers of the Search for Shelter and members of AIA Minnesota's Housing Advocacy Committee, followed by a video presentation of the 2014 Affordable Housing Design Award Recipient, Clare Midtown, an affordable residence for people living with HIV/AIDS. The volunteers then split up into eight different groups, which they would stay in for the remainder of the weekend, to meet with their client. The client then explained the project, the parameters of the design proposal they were looking for, and then answered any questions that the design group had.

Thumbnail image for IMG_2495.jpg

Site visit with Search for Shelter 2015 AEON group

The group I was a part of worked with a client from the non-profit developer AEON to develop an initial design proposal for an affordable housing apartment complex for recently homeless youth and mixed-income tenants on a nearly block long site on University Avenue in St. Paul. After touring the site with our client early Saturday morning, we set down to the task of brainstorming and designing, working together to create a respectful building concept that prioritized AEON's goals of fostering a sense of community, instilling a feeling of security, and incorporating strategies to make the building more sustainable. The completed proposal scheme, involving a set of lively rooftop terraces that cascades down and around the building form, was presented to the larger group and to the client on Sunday at noon, and can be seen in it's entirety at this link.

The Search for Shelter was a tremendous experience, offering an opportunity to work with professional designers, for real clients, on an actual project, and represents a wonderful chance to use my skills as a designer to help those in need.

The other non-profit groups assisted during the 2015 Search for Shelter are:
AEON
Alafia Place
Alliance Housing Inc.
Anna Marie's Alliance
Avenues for Homeless Youth
Rebuilding Together TC
Salvation Army
Women's Advocates

Tiny Houses by and for the Homeless in Madison, Wisconsin

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Editor's Note: The following article, written by Pat Shneider, about the building of a village of tiny houses for the homeless by Occupy Madison, originally appeared in Madison's The Cap Times in July. Since then, the movement gained national attention from articles in Al Jazeera America and The Huffington Post, and has seen a number of similar projects pop up as far away as Portland, Oregon, Texas, and New York. The village in Madison was officially opened in November, just in time for the holidays, with four people moving in to the three existing homes with plans for more on the way.


Keith Valiquette says it was the sense of community that attracted him to Occupy Madison's tiny house movement. And he predicts that others, even people who can afford regular-sized houses, will be joining him.

Valiquette, 65, now homeless after a long working career and owning a business as well as houses, is in line to live in the third tiny house constructed by Occupy Madison volunteers. His dog, Chip, will move in with him.

He and the occupants of other tiny houses built by Occupy Madison plan to park them on the nonprofit organization's east-side property later this summer, once toilet and shower facilities are installed in a former auto body shop on the site. The group has city approval to park up to nine tiny houses around the main building, which will also have a common lounge space and a workshop for construction of the houses. Community gardening space will be up front and visible on the one-third acre site, while the tiny houses will be located behind a six-foot fence.

"This is not just for homeless," says Valiquette. "What we're doing with tiny homes is going to be a godsend to the middle class in the future. This is entry level housing for young families, college student."

There's no question tiny houses have captured plenty of attention. There are a half-dozen projects in other cities similar to Occupy Madison's, aiming to provide permanent housing for homeless people. There's also a growing movement of people downsizing to smaller housing to live more simply and cheaply. The movement has generated online communities, books, movies and a tiny house conference in North Carolina this spring with another planned next year in Portland, Ore., where tiny houses are a hot trend.

exterior-of-green-house.jpg

A typical tiny house, from Occupy Madison

Tiny houses are not only more affordable and lead to more sustainable lifestyles, they build community by bringing people closer to one another, literally, say enthusiasts.

"We've got to quit building these monstrous boxes to house people. It only separates us. I'd just as soon see people at all levels of society living in these tiny villages. I hope down the road our village isn't just homeless people," Valiquette says. "I hope we're part of the larger community, not an enclave."

Community within the village is fostered by the common goals of Occupy Madison members in constructing and managing it through rules adopted and enforced by the group. A sense of community with neighbors beyond the fence that will surround the village may be more difficult.

Occupy Madison's revolutionary development plan - which the city will continue to monitor through numerous conditions placed on zoning approval - got a mixed reception from neighbors.

Some welcomed it as an innovative experiment in affordable housing. Others worked to get the plan rejected by city officials, saying that allowing it would make the Emerson East neighborhood the only one in the city where building codes are not enforced, thereby lowering property values.

And although the neighborhood debate included suggestions that formerly homeless people living in the village would be lawless or dangerous, Valiquette says he didn't take that personally.

"I was a homeowner," he says. "I have no animosity toward those who opposed us. It's a little self-interested, but it's understandable."

Yet as far as concerns over the value of their housing investments, "the banksters in the world have a bigger effect than we do. We're peanuts," Valiquette says.

Neighbors who have supported the village "see the bigger picture," he says. "They are why I am part of this. We as a society need to come together again."

10811252_10202981278396890_2082791862_n.jpg

The interior of a completed house, from Occupy Madison

Brenda Konkel, an Occupy Madison board member, says neighbors already are volunteering their time and donating things like flowers, which were planted on the property last week.

Konkel says that sustainability features, like the houses being built of largely recycled materials and the community gardens, are attracting neighbors to find out more about the planned village.

"And they like that you can do it yourself," she says of the tiny houses in which recipients invest "sweat equity" along with other volunteers.

Long term, "we hope to find a bigger piece of land for a bigger village, with more opportunity for urban agriculture. But to find that in a place with public transportation will be hard," Konkel said.

She estimates that Occupy Madison has been contacted from people in a couple hundred communities asking for their plans for building the houses and information on related issues like the zoning impediments to houses that are smaller than codes allow.

"Eventually, I'd like to develop a national list-serv on what we did here," to share information, she says.

Valiquette says he values the opportunity to get to know people from all walks of life that he has gained through Occupy Madison and hopes the lure of the tiny house movement opens people's eyes to the variety of people who find themselves "homeless."

"Homeless people are as varied as all the other people in your neighborhood," he says. They are the people couch surfing with friends or staying with relatives, and the people sleeping on the porch of the City-County Building.

"I'm not just building a tiny home. I'm building a community," he says.

From The Cap Times, July 19th, 2014: "Tiny house occupant drawn to Occupy Madison village out of desire for community" by Pat Shneider. Read the entire article here, and learn more about Occupy Madison's Tiny House village at Madison.com.

Higher Ground

Hildebrand_Berkeley_1.jpg

Photo credit: Evan Hildebrand


One early October morning, riding along one of the many bike trails that crisscross the city, I look up as the still-cold sunlight falls onto a bank of windows emerging from a tan-colored building, pointing out into the bike path. The view is commanding, and the view that those windows command, the view behind me, is just as arresting: the whole of downtown Minneapolis, newly lit in the crisp fall air. One would be forgiven for thinking that those windows belong to a luxury apartment building, not unlike those I passed not moments ago. But they do not. They belong to a homeless shelter, designed by Cermak Rhoades Architects.

A bit of background: Cermak Rhoades Architects, founded by Terri Cermak and Todd Rhoades around 20 years ago, deals mostly with what associate Chris Wegsheid called "supportive housing": designing affordable housing for marginalized populations who need some assistance in one form or another, such as the recently homeless, mentally ill, or substance abusers. Their innovative architectural responses to pressing social concerns have led to the firm receiving two out of the three AIA-Minnesota Affordable Housing Design Awards granted since the award's inception in 2012, as well as and admiration from their peers involved in public interest design in the Twin Cities.

Hildebrand_Berkeley_2.JPG

Photo credit: Evan Hildebrand

The building I'm looking up at, known as Higher Ground, was designed for Catholic Charities and meant to replace an overcrowded homeless shelter nearby, but takes the potential much further than a simple room with cots on the floor. It combines a temporary shelter with longer-term housing solutions: the building represents a bottom-to-top gradient in terms of increasing independence, privacy, and domesticity, a layering meant to help to ease a transition out of homelessness. The bottom floor houses a large overnight shelter, with raised bunk beds for over 120 people, as well as meal services, medical help, and a computer lab, as well as a large expanse of windows that flood the room in natural light. Above, the second floor holds a pay-to-stay shelter, booked in advance, and marked by increased privacy and security. The freedom, privacy, and space afforded to residents only increases from there, with the upper floors holding more permanent housing, with SRO (single-room occupancy) units and, on the very top floor, full efficiency apartments. The design of the floors also reflects the feelings of each change from temporary to permanent housing, becoming increasingly domestic, from the greater use of metal and concrete for the bottom floor shelter to the subdued homeliness of the upper apartments.

Higher Ground is like few other homeless shelters in the Twin Cities, but it shouldn't be. It shows the dedication, intelligence, and sheer intelligence that Cermak Rhoades have brought to bear to their work with supportive housing, and this Minnesotan metropolis is better for it. Perhaps when I ride this way again, a few more luxury apartments will be replaced with homeless shelters and affordable housing. And, if they're all designed as well as Higher Ground, I won't even notice the difference.


Editor's Note: This essay was originally a submission to the Berkeley Prize Essay Competition. Although the deadline for submissions to the 2015 competition has now closed, you can find out more about the Berkeley Prize here.

Public In Practice: The Pipeline Problem

Editor's Note: This blogpost is part of a series taken from Public In Practice: A Field Guide to Public Interest Design in the Twin Cities. The series focuses on the conclusion of the book, a look at some of the issues in public interest design brought up by those doing this work in the Twin Cities. This installment focuses on "the pipeline problem."

There is no question that public interest design is a growing field. There are more and more organizations practicing some form of public interest design, more and more exposure to the field through media, social or otherwise, and more and more students who are interested in doing this kind of work for a living. And that's where things get complicated. While the number of students and young architects wanting to do public interest design is increasing, the way the go about doing so is still very unclear. Compared with a traditional path into architecture, with established firms, internships, and licensing, starting a career in public interest design is much more difficult. According to Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, "that's one of our major challenges right now, which is the so called 'pipeline problem,' which is that there are a lot of students who are graduating and really eager to do this work, but are unsure of how to start."

Take the example of Laurie McGinley, designer at ESG Architects. After graduating with an undergraduate architecture degree in 2000 and working in a firm for a year, her desire to help others and make a difference in the world led her to join the Peace Corps, after which she figured she would go to grad school. "What ended up happening is that what I learned while being a volunteer about how the rest of the world lives made me actually averse to the field of architecture," McGinley said; "I kind of went as far away from it as I thought I possibly could...it seemed like design was something wealthy countries spent money on and I couldn't see the practical applications of it." After not being able to connect her time in the Peace Corps with any aspect of her architectural education, McGinley spent seven years working as a web designer - before going back to grad school and getting a job at ESG, an architectural firm. So what drove her back to the field of architecture? McGinley, like many others, was inspired by the ideas of public interest design: "The reason I went back to grad school is that I finally started to see the connections of how design can help people whose babies are dying, who don't have roads, who don't have water...that's where I see my future career trying to go," she said. However, even newly armed with a renewed passion for design and architecture, McGinley says it's still incredibly hard to see where to go next, or how her passion for design that helps others can turn into an actual career. McGinley explained, "I have this question of, 'All right, I'm on board...now what?'"

Dean Fisher sees firsthand the interest coming from students in this field, but he also sees a great demand for this kind of work from the rest of the world, and that, he says, is "the kind of paradox of it. While the route is less clear, the need is much greater. We just need to develop the institutional structure that allows this to happen." Fisher also views the recent Latrobe Prize report, "Wisdom From
 The Field: Public Interest Architecture In Practice," as a tool in helping lessen the pipeline problem. The report, which involved a massive survey of design professionals across the nation, outlined different approaches to practicing public interest design, and offered suggestions on how to support and grow the profession from within large institutions like the AIA or the NCARB.

Interested in reading more? Read the entire book here, or see the embedded link above.

2014 Fall Gathering

IMG_4174.JPG

James Wheeler leads discussion on "What Next?" at the 2014 Public Interest Design Fall Gathering [photo credit Virajita Singh]


The 2014 public interest design Fall Gathering, which took place October 29th, was meant to bring both students and faculty interested in public interest design together to meet, network, get an update on latest college PID developments. Students and faculty were also there to engage in a facilitated discussion on what PID means to our college community and ideas for what should happen going forward.

The meeting, facilitated by James Wheeler, began with attendees sharing "What I know and What I want to know," from which various PID questions emerged. The discussion then followed the "Pro-Action Café" Method - where participants rotated around to different facilitators, each with their own question to focus on - to tackle three main topics as generated by the opening questions. The session then concluded with a wrap up as a large group, discussing steps to take: what now and what next? The following are just a few highlights and takeaways from the meeting

- The session led by Dean Tom Fisher, looking at defining PID, identified nine key words related to how PID is defined at the U of M: Community, engaged, problem-solving, process, cultural immersion, impact, with, people, and dignity.

- Kristine Miller, who led the group examining the question of "how can we better serve the community?", looked at ideas about the NDSA loan forgiveness and how the school can help students continue their projects outside of school to create ongoing relationships with the community.

- James Wheeler led a discussion around creating a PID curriculum, leading to ideas about Academia, Practice, and Theory all leading into and building off each other, and brainstorming ideas like "what if PID was part of every course?" or "what if there were real clients for every project?"

- The session looking at how to structure an educational program to prepare students for working in PID, led by Jim Lutz, examining what skills and values are needed in PID that might not be as apparent in a normal/existing design education. This led to a discussion on the importance of teaching ethics in a PID education, like empathy, cross-cultural competence, and the value of "street-scape" design and real world experience.

IMG_4176.JPG

Post-It Notes from the session on "how can we better serve the community?" facilitated by Kristine Miller.

Blitz Building with Habitat for Humanity

Otto Habitat Blitz 077.jpg
Blitz building in action; photo credit Nathaniel Tollefson

I have been volunteering for Habitat for the last 10 years. I am a carpenter by trade and they were looking for volunteers. I was invited to do a 'blitz' build in West Virginia by my brother and his wife. I did not know what a 'blitz' build was but soon found out. The local chapter of Habitat partners with a group of traveling Blitzers who help build complete houses in one weekend to energize the local volunteering force. This build was two houses side by side is some of the most beautiful hillside riparian country I have seen. West Virginia is truly stunning. We built two houses in one weekend working side by side with volunteers, homeowners, inmates and local carpenters. When each house was complete before the last piece of siding would be nailed at the peak of a gable everyone who worked on the house would sign it. We would all gather around and support the ladder as the homeowner nailed that piece on high up on gable. Not a dry eye on site, everyone cried, whooped and hollered. I was hooked.

For the last 5-6 years I have been trying to do the same type of build but on a local scale in Minnesota. My aunt is the CFO of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis County chapter and has put me in touch with the local president Nathan Thompson. St. Louis County includes Duluth and areas straight north of there. We have done a blitz build every summer and met some great people. Nathan gets the foundation in and the site prepped before we arrive then we show up and give it our all for 30 hrs in two days and usually have a house built with just the interior left to do. I like to stay an additional day or two and enjoy the woods in the surrounding areas, right by BWCA.

This coming winter we will be doing a slightly different build. I am currently looking for volunteers to help design a habitat house to be built in the summer 2015. I am specifically looking at fellow undergraduate and graduate students interested in making a difference. SLCH4H is interested in lowering energy costs for their homeowners so we will be looking at foundation insulation, wall sections, and possible site orientations. The houses are small and on a tight budget which adds to the design challenge. Very soon you will see postings around Rapson Hall for meeting times and places. I am looking forward to working with the team that develops out of the process. Come to the meetings and sign up! As an additional incentive the hours working on Habitat count towards your IDP.

Nathaniel Tollefson
NL Tollefson Inc.
LIC# BC681638

Otto Habitat Blitz 056.jpgBlitz building in action; photo credit Nathaniel Tollefson

Otto Habitat Blitz 123.jpgBlitz building in action; photo credit Nathaniel Tollefson

Dwell + DLGYAD Live! - From the National to the Local

DLYGAD Poster
Design Like You Give a Damn: Live! from Architecture for Humanity and Dwell Magazine; Photo by Virajita Singh


Last month Dwell Magazine held the inaugural East Coast offering of its successful design event in New York. Architecture for Humanity (AFH) partnered with Dwell on Design NY for its 5th annual Design Like You Give a Damn Live! humanitarian design conference. With three days of programming, the concurrent events created interesting opportunities for the mainstream and fast-becoming-mainstream field of public interest design (PID) to intersect.

The conference kicked off with an inspiring keynote presentation by Daniel Libeskind who shared his groundbreaking ideas and innovative work. This was followed by stimulating breakout sessions over the next two days covering a variety of topics: emerging trends ("The New Malleable Office"), technology ("Technology and Material Innovation"), urban development and public spaces ("Between Civic and Residential Architecture"), and interior design ("Living Large in Small Spaces"). A product showcase featured Blu Homes, Raydoor, IKEA, Humanscale, Vitra, Volvo, Marvin Windows and Doors, among others. An onsite bookstore organized by Dwell and Designers & Books was a personal favorite.

AFH's sessions were very well attended, often with standing room only attendance. The Design Open Mic event featured national and global architectural projects, including work from Mexico, Chile, Afghanistan, Israel, Philippines, Turkey, Hungary, Germany, and elsewhere. It was heartening to see so many public interest design projects from around the world. As the PID movement grows, it's time for stakeholders to share best practices, including those pertaining to design with other cultures and ways of community engagement. This is a conversation in which all sectors -- community, government, academia, and practice -- should be engaged.

DLYGAD Live Speaker
DLYGAD Live Conference, Unknown Speaker; Photo credit Virajita Singh

From the University of Minnesota College of Design's perspective it was great to connect with a number of staff from AFH who have been great partners with our faculty and PID initiatives over the last few years -- Eric Cesal, Darren Gill, Jacob Ehrenberg, Audrey Gallo and others. There are many synergies to be found in the numerous projects with which AFH is involved. As new executive director Eric Cesal stated in a recent interview, his goal is to "position Architecture for Humanity as a teacher and mentor". Opportunities abound for collaboration.

At our Public Interest Design Fall Gathering last week, many of the students and faculty present were in agreement that given the enthusiastic interest in PID across the College, support at the administrative and faculty level, and being in a region known for its philanthropy and humanitarianism, we are uniquely situated. With our local, national, and global partners, we are excited to be involved in this work. Stay tuned!


Virajita Singh is Sr. Research Fellow and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the College of Design, University of Minnesota.