Public Interest Design Institute Jun27


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Public Interest Design Institute

On June 15th and 16th, the Public Interest Design Institute was held in Gould Hall, hosted by the Department of Landscape Architecture and led by Bryan Bell, founder of Design Corps and a leader in the Social Economic Environmental Design®  (SEED) Network. Public Interest Design is the latest title given to the movement in which designers provide assistance to communities that typically do not have access to design services. The mission of Public Interest Design is: Every person should be able to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community. Typically a fringe or alternative mode of practice, exemplified by notions such as that of the 1% Program, Public Interest Design is a collaborative network of designers who seek to make community engagement and accountability regular components of design practice. Local representatives at the training included local professionals and students, Environmental Works, the Pomegranate Center, and Jeff Hou, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture. The inspiring mix of speakers, case studies, and discussions would be impossible to summarize briefly, so I am going to focus on what all of this has to do with the UW Department of Architecture.

During the two-day training, various models of practice for Public Interest Design were shared. One hybrid model discussed repeatedly throughout the conference involves: a local non-profit engaging a specific community, an academic institution providing programming and schematic design as service learning, and a professional design organization completing design and construction documents. In this model, students are a critical source of energy, ideas, and effort at an early phase when scarcity of resources and finances can prevent a community-based project from going forward. In school, students rarely have the opportunity to be involved in framing a program, determining a site, or engaging with real clients. Having just completed an independent studio working with YouthCare to develop visions for a transitional housing facility, I can say that these types of interactions can be some of the most inspiring and rewarding a student can have.  I encourage faculty and students in the UW Department of Architecture to expand their skills and modes of practice, and to seek opportunities to regularly engage in Public Interest Design.


Room laid out to facilitate discussion between all participants

Jeff Hou presenting the student role in the International Children’s Park in Seattle

Bryan Bell presenting the history of Public Interest Design

People networking during a coffee break in Gould Hall

Written by Erin Feeney, MArch Candidate 2012.


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