“I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”
“Out of anger comes controversy, out of controversy comes conversation, out of conversation comes action.”
Ideo recently published their Field Guide to Human Centred Design which reminded me of the importance of people centred design and architecture in todays rapidly changing world.
I recently worked in a recently renovated theatre and it was a great lesson on how essential it was to design spaces for how people would actually use them instead of just the aesthetics. I had many gripes about the architecture. The architects had obvviously designed what the client wanted, a grand building that stood out in the streetscape and city. But for those of us working there the new design was tricky to navigate; pillars that prevented patrons from seeing where the bar was, high bar tops difficult for shorter staff to work or be seen, locking doors that made it hard to get around the building.
The way architecture is taught in architecture schools means that people are not at the centre of the design process. There is a discussion of aesthetics, the image, context, light, the form. this continues to the office where the concern is about cost savings and making the client happy with little dicussion of people or how they actually use or engage with the space.
All to often as architects we feel as though we must be the master builder, designing to the last detail. Which is fair enough especially as the icons in our profession work in this way. However participation does not prevent this method rather it looks at a holistic approach which encompases not just the design and construction but also puts the end users at the centre of the design process.
John Habrekens explanation of participation has stuck with me since seeing the brilliant documentary De Drager. He spoke of participation being a paternalistic that implies that professionals make the world and they are willing to let the people in. Whereas it is the other way round. There is the built environment that has its own laws and has been around for thousands of years, so instead we should ask to what extent can the architect particpate to make it better. Not participation of the people in the work of the architect. Creating a new dialogue with the building and the professional role. If we get feedback from the way people use the building and we can understand this. We begin to ask ourselves what is the intervention the architect can make?
His interest in feedback is similar to that of the lean start up, which advocates testing and iteration, creating short feedback loops that inform the next iteration. In impact design or people centred design we are constantly looking at and evaluating the impact of a project on the community. This hardly ever happens in traditional architectural practice. The project ends with the construction of the building with little follow up to see what lessons could be learned or feedback gained. This should be practice that is wide spread in the profession. Not just the impact to the individuals using the space but also the wider social and economic community. It begins with actually speaking to the people who use or will use the spaces.
A brilliant example is ‘Koolhaas Houselife.’ Exploring the everyday life of the housekeeper of one of architect Rem Koolhaas’ buildings. It’s reality versus the polished images often depicted.
Lately I’ve been exploring some really interesting projects and organisations that have a focus on community and empowering young people to get out there and change their environment. Encouraging learning by doing. I’ve compliled a list of the projects I’ve discovered so far, here’s Part 1. They are definitely worth checking out!
The Building Hero project
Building Hero Project in Philadelphia empowers young people to be community change makers and leaders, by educating them in design and entrepreneurship. The group meet a couple of weekday afternoons at the department of Making + Doing in West Philadelphia. They aim to make their neighbourhoods better places to live through design, so public spaces are central to the program. The ‘heroes’ learn through designing, making and selling products that improve public spaces, homes and everyday lives. For example one bench was originally designed to be put in neighbourhoods that lacked public space. A really simple way to transform public space.
The Building Hero project has an interesting and highly sustainable funding model. They sell the products designed on their highly successful Etsy store. The money raised from the Etsy store means that they are able to fund the program, covering material and tool costs, pay a Building Hero and help the program grow.
Started in Alabama, Project M goes by the tag line “thinking wrong”. Inspired by architect Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio, graphic designer John Bielenberg started the program to inspire designers,and creatives from a range fo fields to use their work to positively impact communities.
Similar to the Building Hero Project participants are encouraged to experience being social entrepreneurs by going out there and making. Not to wait for permission or a project. . The sessions run for two- four weeks with a groups of 10 people, and there are shorter projects 48 hour “blitzes”. The groups have to identify a problem and solve it. By finding something that is meaningful, something they are passionate about and figure out a way to do it. The resulting projects include Pie Lab, a space for conversation and design. It started small as with Project M members standing in a street corner and handing out slices of pie to passers-by with the idea to spur community and conversation, one slice at a time. It has since grown to a local cafe with a space for designers.
Tog Studio is a live-build summer school, started by Scottish architecture and engineering graduates to meet the gaps in traditional education. The emphasis is on practical building skills and collaboration on real life projects in beautiful locations.
Tog is a gaelic word that means ‘build’ ‘raise’ educate and ‘excite’. Their projects aim to inspire self builders, in 2013 the team built a boathouse for the Tiree Maritime trust.
I find these projects so inspiring. Their real life problem solving initiatives and balance of education, action and entrepreneurship is wonderful to see and the positive impacts they are making in their communities.
If you know of other interesting projects let me know and I’ll check them out! And keep an eye out for Part 2 🙂
It started with two posts by Humans of New York. Humans of New York (HONY) is a lovely project by Brandon. He started it after he was made redundant and with no photography experience decided to photograph 100,000 New Yorkers. It has since become a story telling device, he collects little stories or quotes as well as the photographs. It is such a great concept, a way of giving people a voice. Allowing them to tell their story, whether it is happy, sad, or thought provoking. So many people I know and many people around the world have been connected by it creating a community of HONY supporters.
His photograph of Vidal had a huge response. Vidal was asked who has influenced him the most and he spoke of his headteacher, Ms Lopez. An absolutely amazing woman who is fighting a battle to make her students believe they matter. She is a change maker, impacting the lives of her students every day. But Ms Lopez herself had been about to give up hope, but her mother had told her to pray on it. A couple of days later she saw Vidals story online.
Brandon did something that i’ve never seen him do in the year of so I’ve been following him on facebook. He went to meet her and asked her what she needed. They struck upon increasing the horizons of the young people at Mont Hall Bridges Academy by providing the students with a visit to
They started a campaign on Indiegogo, setting out to raise $100,000 but have since raised over $1 million. Creating a massive impact on the community. Meaning the Harvard trip can not only be permanent but they can run a summer school. The HONY community has been truly generous. It’s really brought home to me the power of creating connections, of telling stories. The Mont Hall Bridges Academy community has felt the outpouring of love and support from people around the world.
It just saw that Vidal and Mrs Lopez were at the White House, a couple of days ago they were on the Ellen Show. Absolutely amazing. By allowing Vidal to tell his story, Brandon Vidal had been able to touch the lives of not just his classmates, the future students of Mont Hall, the Brownsville community who have been given a voice, Ms Lopez, HONY & extended community. Creating connections that go beyond geographical boundaries.
I think this quote by Barack Obama, says it all.
“You don’t do things alone. Nobody does things alone. Everybody always needs support. For a young man like you, you should never be too afraid or too shy to look for people who can encourage you or mentor you. There are a lot of people out there who want to provide advice and support to people who are trying to do the right thing. So you’ll have a lot of people helping you. Just always remember to be open to help. Never think that you know everything. And always be ready to listen.”
CreatificationThe role of the creative class should be less receiving, rather broader and more faithful and responsive– economic call– social necessity– moral obligation
I attended the committee meeting of the New Glasgow Society last week. It’s an organisation that I have always been curious about as I always pass their shopfront nearby.
It was fascinating to meet the members, who are a mix of people Some have been there since it started in 1965. They spoke of the Wee Green Book and how it inspired many of them to protest the large urban reconstruction projects that were happening in Glasgow at the time. They spoke of the archives of the newsletters which showed proposals, many of which were never built. It all just reminded me of the power of a cause and the power of individuals to make positive changes in their environment.
It is fascinating and I definitely want to find out more and keep involved. This year will be the 50th anniversary so keep an eye out for the wonderful series of events that will be happening throughout the year! 🙂