I recently attended the Public Interest Design Institute hosted by the J. Max Bond Center on Design for Just City at The Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York.
The audience consisted professional architects (receiving AIA accreditation) design and architecture faculty and students from around the country as well as local NYC community -based organization.
Lead by J Max Bond Center Staff, Design Corp, funders and faculty in Public Interest design, case studies and research presented challenges and successes in the Design for the 98% movement.
As end users of designed products and spaces we (the 98%) rarely have input in the products or spaces designed by others; with 2% of end users having the money and decision making power to inform the designs they use – and are more likely to benefit from while deriving greater utility.
Public Interest Design and SEED certification works to break down these barriers and promote systems of transparency and accountability in public design endeavors, bringing the 98% to the ideation table.
Public Interest Design is defined as “the practice of design with the goal that every person should be able to live in a socially, economically and environmentally healthy community.”
In my field, housing and economic development, projects developers and architects held accountable to the leadership of the government entities and/or the funders and financiers. It is rare to see collaboration on idea generation and design between developers, architects and residents let alone structures of accountability. The 2% dilemma can be real for us in this sector.
For blighted occupied buildings set for redevelopment the public interest design and the SEED framework could be useful in planning, implementing and evaluating strategies with tenants are the center of the design and construction process for greater social and economic returns.
Some things that come to mind are:
- local tenants’ and residents’ collective memory, if appropriately tapped and harnessed, can educate designers and developers on important building systems issues and social issues that they’ve witnessed over the years, this knowledge can have tremendous economic implications and reduce “surprises” the throughout the development process.
- reduced long- term maintenance and operations costs are more likely as tenants and residents recognize their collective ownership of a real local asset, tenants see themselves as stewards of their buildings’ long term success and preservation.
- integrating social and economic empowerment programs into the design and construction process (via jobs, training and leadership opportunities) reaps layers of benefits for all parities and the surrounding neighborhoods.
The seal of approval for public interest design comes in the form of SEED certification: Social Economic Environmental Design. A newly minted alternative to LEED certification with considerations for human and economic impact, without the exorbitant cost of LEED certification often cost prohibitive for community- based developers.
Small Next Steps for Big Impact
The SEED network shares case studies of successful projects around the world. With replicable models. While the community development sector looks to deepen services to tenants that have decent housing but limited opportunities for socioeconomic mobility.
Tenants and Residents need not have a role all areas of building design, but could take on landscaping, interior design, façade design, the design of a community room or other smaller design projects within the larger development. These activities could wrap into job training and workforce development and could include technology training, shop drawing, GED preparation and other skills building programs.
There are also models of K-12 classrooms taking on design challenges for their neighborhoods as service learning exercise. This could cross many disciplines including STEM, STEAM and social studies with lasting benefits for students and the communities they call home.
My colleagues and I are brainstorming the use of SEED as well as Human Centered Design tools in some of our projects. Stay tuned.##