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Gregory Ain’s “Construction of a Social Landscape” Through Architecture


Architect Gregory Ain (1908-1988) was not only celebrated for the beauty inherent in his mid century designs but also his commitment to socially responsible architecture. His work on cooperative housing projects in the 1930s and 1940s were so controversial at the time that the FBI monitored Ain’s and his political activities. A recent exhibition at Woodbury School of Architecture’s WUHO gallery in Los Angeles “Gregory Ain: Low-Cost Modern Housing and the Construction of a Social Landscape,” focused on displaying Ain as a pioneer in low-cost equitable housing and not just as a prolific mid century architect.

These projects stand out for their innovative approach to the construction
 of a “social landscape” through the integration
 of architecture, landscape, and planning. While promoting ideas of mutual investment in the built environment, these planned neighborhoods were meant to provide “common people” with a new kind of shared urban space.

Although the exhibition recently ended it is important to note the history of socially responsible architecture. Ain’s work stands as a strong case-study for the necessity of transdisciplinarity between architecture, landscape, and urban planning.

A full description of the exhibition can be read on WUHOs website here.

Image courtesy of WUHO

Webinar: “Women Taking the Lead in Engineering for Global Development”

E4CEngineering for Change (E4C) is a global community of engineers, technologists, social scientists, NGOs, and local governments working towards sustainable solutions for underserved communities worldwide. On April 29th, 2015 E4C will kick off its new multi-part webinar series exploring the topic of engineering careers for global development. The first segment of the webinar focuses on women’s roles as leaders in this field.

Historically, women have made up only 10 – 20 percent of the engineering work force, according to UNESCO, but they play an outsized role in global development. We will focus on lived experiences, issues, and insights from people who make a living developing and delivering poverty-alleviating solutions.

Join Heather Fleming (CEO, Catapult Design), Diana Keesiga (Programme Engineer, Water for People) and Jordan Schermerhorn (Co-Founder, Dunia Health) for an in-depth discussion of their personal experiences paving their paths in this field.

Register for the first segment of the webinar on April 29th, 2015 at 11:00 AM EDT here.

Image courtesy of Bradley Brown

Building the First Water Literacy Campus in New Orleans


Ripple Effect is a program that promotes “water literacy” by giving students — the city’s youngest citizens — the knowledge and skills they need to protect their communities in an era of climate change and sea level rise. Working closely with KIPP New Orleans, the Ripple Effect team of designers, teachers, and water experts is overhauling the central schoolyard at KIPP Central City Primary, in the heart of the city, to address existing flooding issues and to create a model campus for water education and play. The design takes what is now a hard patch of bare dirt, concrete, and asphalt with few trees and other amenities, and creates a rich outdoor environment that uses expansive rain gardens and cypresses to soak up stormwater and provides shade and a variety of learning and play environments.

The school’s principal, Korbin Johnson, says: “Engaging our students in water literacy in the school courtyard gives education a bigger purpose and builds real world understanding.  This motivates them in our school today and empowers them to make change in New Orleans in the future.”

Upon completion at the end of this summer, 500+ students and 40+ teachers will use the courtyard as a tool for learning about water issues at different scales, topography, design, and ecology. The project will serve as a model for other campuses throughout the region in relating play to environmental education and water-literacy. The project relies on in-kind donations, foundation grants and a wide range of individual donors for full implementation to occur this summer. To learn more and to contribute to the project, visit the project’s Kickstarter Page.

What Design Can Do Event 2015


What Design Can Do is two-day international event highlighting the impact of design. Held in Amsterdam, this conference is for designers wanting to create societal change through their profession.

Too often design is associated only with aesthetics, trends and luxury, but design can mean so much more. At its best, design can change, improve, renew, inspire, involve, shock, move, disrupt, help or solve. What Design Can Do intends to demonstrate the value of design thinking as a response to the challenges of today’s world.

With an an international and interdisciplinary lineup of speakers ranging from designers, and opinion leaders to policy makers and scientists, this event promises to be cross-disciplinary and highly engaging. What Design Can Do calls the event an “activist conference,” wherein both audience and speakers engage in discussions and build strategies together. Cameron Sinclair, Superuse Studio, Refugee Republic, Michael Murphy, and Francis Kere are just a small handful of the people and organizations speaking at the event. Mark your calendars for May 21 & 22, 2015 and get your tickets today on their website here.

Six Steps Towards Sustainable Development


An article released by The Guardian features key insights into ensuring sustainability for global development projects. The article specifically points to six steps that can be utilized to foster resilient impact. Although the article focuses on water initiatives, the six points can be transposed to impact design projects.

1. Think sustainable: From the very start, don’t think about your project as an immediate solution to a problem.

2. Ensure the communities’ participation: In this way, they take ownership of the project and make it sustainable.

3. Build solid partnerships: Take a look at what the strengths of your organisation are so that you know what you’re bringing to the table and then build partnerships with those that will complement you.

4. Implement technologies according to the context:  The key is to consider the context of each community, involve them in the process and figure out what will work for them.

5. Track the progress and assess the results: To measure that impact you should constantly monitor the progress of the project and compare the wellbeing of the population after the project to the conditions they were in before.

6. Build a shared learning environment with your partners: Humbleness is needed to be able to recognize what worked and what didn’t, and also openness to share it with others.

These tips were created by the Femsa Foundation based off their Water Links initiative. Read the full article on The Guardian here to get a full breakdown of each of the six points.

Public Architecture’s John Peterson named Loeb Fellowship Curator


We are delighted to share the news that Public Architecture’s John Peterson has been appointed curator of the prestigious Loeb Fellowship. Now in its fifth decade, the Loeb Fellowship offers professionals working in the built and natural environment the opportunity to spend one academic year deepening their practice through studying, learning and reflecting at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of the GSD, expresses his enthusiasm for Peterson’s newly appointed role by stating:

I am excited that John will join the GSD community as Loeb Curator. His experience addressing issues of design and equality are in line with the GSD’s commitment to imagining alternative and sustainable futures, informed by an understanding of ethical and political concerns.

As an alumnus of the Loeb fellowship, Peterson brings a wealth of experience to the role. In Peterson’s words, “The Loeb Fellowship has done a brilliant job over the years nurturing talented individuals and fostering a larger conversation about how the built environment can be developed to influence social outcomes. I look forward to the opportunity to deepen this conversation and support an even greater impact on rural and urban environments.” Read the official announcement of John Peterson’s new role on the GSD’s website here.

Image courtesy of Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Makeosity: A maker community for youth by youth

“Imagination, curiosity, energy and ambition” are the key features of Makeosity. This online and in-school community connects youth, teachers, parents and experts to explore the world of making. Embracing the DIY mentality, Makeosity is not only about the acquisition of new skills but also focuses on inventing products and launching businesses.

Makeosity offers in-school and online resources to learn coding, robotics, electronics and 3D modeling. Our young makers become masters and develop their own “how tos” to encourage play and experimentation with things as simple as playdough that conducts electricity in circuits to controllable air gliders cut from foam plates to mechanical toys on toothbrush heads.

A key piece of this equation is that the youth in the program are working as advisers for Makeosity and making their voice heard in every aspect of the business. Dr. Karen Kaun, founder and president of Makeosity, is looking forward to the imminent date when the youth will take ownership of the company, with only little help from the adults.

Read more about Makeosity on their website: www.makeosity.com

Knight Cities Challenge Announces 32 Winning Projects

Only six months ago, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the first Knight Cities Challenge; calling for projects, in the 26 cities the Knight Foundation invests in, that proposed strategies for civic and economic developments. The call for projects attracted an overwhelming number of submissions, more than 7,000 to be exact. Only 32 civic innovators were chosen with prizes ranging from $124,300 to $650,000! Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation, expresses her take on the winning applicants below:

Several themes emerged among the winning applications, which all sought to accelerate talent, opportunity or engagement—the three primary drivers of city success—in some way. “Bringing life back to public and vacant space” was the theme of our largest category of winners, representing almost a third of the group. The second largest category was “changing the stories people tell about their cities” with almost 20 percent. Three more themes each represented 13 percent of the winning ideas: “reimagining the civic commons,” “retaining talent” and “promoting civic engagement.”

The largest prize went to Rebuild Foundation for its “ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen” idea. This project aims to repurpose unused space as a “culinary incubator and cafe” in Gary, Indiana. Visit the Knight Foundation website here for a full list of the winners. The Knight Cities Challenge will reopen for submissions in fall 2015.

Boundaries: A Focus on Humanitarian Architecture


Boundaries, an international quarterly magazine that focuses on providing information on sustainable and “socially engaged” architecture, has released several issues over the years. In particular, their release of  “A Focus on Humanitarian Architecture” in 2014 is full of insightful information into the field. This issue focuses on the following topic:

“In 2014, for the first time since the end of World War II, the number of refugees exceeds fifty million people in total. In such challenging conditions, in which the needs exceed the capacity of NGO and international organizations to provide help and support, what can architecture do? Maybe a lot, it depends on your vision of what architecture as a profession can deliver.”

With contributions from: BC Architects, Building Trust international Design Team, Spacematters architecture and urbanism, Coporaque Workshop, and many more this issue provides potent case studies and articles. It also includes an interview with Line Ramstad, founder of Gyaw Gyaw active. Take a closer look at this issue or even buy a copy on Boundaries Bookstore here.

Image courtesy of Boundaries

Venezuelan Cities Become an Urban Laboratory for Collaborative Design


For 6 weeks, cities in Venezuela were transformed into urban laboratories. During this time, architects and urban designers tested and implemented “participatory processes and collaborative design” as a method for empowering at risk communities. This project, called Espacios de Paz (EDP) (Spaces of Peace), was the result of the National Government of Venezuela and the Venezuelan firm PICO Estudio joining forces. This unison generated a collaboration amongst professionals, students, local residents and public entities to come together and innovate urban public spaces of conflict through architecture.

“These projects are not designed like (…) giant urban-renewal projects which require massive national capital, bureaucratic processes, and long- term negotiations among investors. EDP focused on what is local, intervening carefully on the ground, knowing and transforming necessities, expectations and dynamics of daily life such as the use of time and space,” states Tere García Alcaraz, an architect and development practitioner.

Several Latin American and Spanish architectural studios developed community projects in 4 cities in Venezuela: Pinto Salinas and Petare in Greater Caracas, Los Mangos in Carabobo, Capitán Chico in Zulia and El Chama Abono in Mérida. The projects included basketball courts on a rooftop, shaded areas for dialogue, orchards, playgrounds and more. Espacios de Paz was such a success that Mexico re-created the concept as Espacios de Paz México. Venezuelan and Latin American collectives are holding a coalition meeting in July 2015 to pool together ideas for future urban interventions. Read the full article (available in both English and Spanish) on Espacios de Paz by Tere García Alcaraz here.

Image courtesy of Colectivo Pico Colectivo Animal