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Connecting People and Planet through Design


An exclusive interview with Lynelle Cameron on her path into impact design, the Autodesk Foundation’s first year learnings, and opportunities for more people to become involved in the field.

The intersection of people and the planet threads through Lynelle Cameron’s storied career in conservation, community development, technology, and design. As the Autodesk Foundation’s President and CEO, Cameron was first inspired by the people-planet relationship when reading the UN definition of sustainable development in the 1987 publication, Our Common Future. Building off her undergraduate studies in cultural anthropology and environmental management, she spent the first ten years of her career at the intersection of conservation and economic development.

Working with the Jackson Hole Conservation AllianceWorld Wildlife FundNational Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and The Mountain Institute, she had the opportunity to live and work in mountain communities around the world. From Wyoming and Alaska to the Himalayas and volcanoes of Kenya, Cameron worked with some of the poorest people in the world who were surrounded by globally significant natural resources. The question driving the programs she built within each of these places was, “How can we work with the people as effective stewards of these resources in a way that improves their economic situation and quality of life?” More

The Debate Over the Status Quo of Placemaking


The concept of placemaking is relatively new in the scope of the built environment. With the birth of the term in the 1960’s by Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte, strategies for contemporary placemaking are being shaped and molded by leaders in the field. Glass-House, a national charity supporting public participation in the design of the built environment, investigated the idea of placemaking through a debate series, A More Ambitious Place, which explored the barriers to realising our ambitions for great places in four cities; Glasgow, Sheffield, Bristol and London.” Through this debate series a number of valuable and difficult points around the field of placemaking were discussed.

“We are both too ambitious and not ambitious enough” opened our first speaker, Alastair Donald on Wednesday at our fourth and final debate in this year’s Series To a More Ambitious Place. The British Council Director for the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale told us firmly that design in placemaking was suffering from “mission creep”, by embracing the doctrine of “salvation by brick” and entering the realm of social engineering. By doing so, designers have lost ambition to drive design solutions that can “accommodate” the choices people want to make.

A full recap of the London debate can be found on Glass House’s website here. It is truly a great read and digs into the often undisclosed issues and difficulties of designing with the community instead of for community.

Image courtesy of The Glass House

Straw-Bale Demonstration House Promotes Sustainable Construction in Indian Country


High quality energy efficient homes are not necessarily on the top of the priority list in Indian Country. Together Thunder Valley Community Development (CDC) and University of Colorado Boulder Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative (NASHI) are working together to change this paradigm. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation sustainable construction techniques are being tested, beginning with a straw-bale household. U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and was able to see the demonstration straw-bale home as well as the current living conditions of the people on the reservation by visiting an overcrowded two-bedroom home where 13 people.

“Thunder Valley is helping improve the quality of life on Pine Ridge by planning for sustainable building and development,” stated Sen. Johnson. “Unique challenges continue to face Indian Country, and Thunder Valley is making great strides towards creating more sustainable and affordable housing. I’m pleased that Secretary Castro joined me to witness firsthand the innovative work being done here and meet the dedicated people that are working to improve their community.”

The community leaders have been hard at work to create a new vision for the future of the citizens living in Indian Country in South Dakota and hopefully, soon enough, across the continent at large. Read a full description of Secretary Castro’s visit and the plans to expand straw bale houses on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation here.

Image courtesy of High Country News

Process and Collaboration: Why Community Design Needs More Cross-Fertilization


This is the sixth post in the “Design for Equity” series. Read all articles in the series in the design for equity section.

I once had the good fortune to have lunch with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi at a meeting for a group of politically active young women. To demonstrate why she was so committed to developing that group, she told us a story of a conversation that had taken place in a members’ lounge inside the U.S. Capitol Building.

A group of around a dozen Congressmen had started telling the stories of their children’s births. The stories focused on frantic drives to the hospital and rushed orders that the men had received from labor-and-delivery nurses in the hospital. Pelosi turned to the only two other Congresswomen in the room—the three had borne 10 children among them—and asked, “How long do you think it will take before any of them think to ask us about our experiences of childbirth?” The disappointing answer was that each of the men in the room took a turn in telling his (or his wife’s) story before any of them thought to ask the three people with first-hand experience in the room. This struck me as a perfect illustration of how someone’s lack of awareness on their limited perspective results in a failure to learn from those around them. More

IKEA Produces 10,000 Refugee Shelters for the UNHCR


The Swedish furniture maker, IKEA, has taken its iconic DIY flat packed furniture and transmuted it into a design for refugee shelters. The Ikea Foundation, the furniture maker’s philanthropic branch, has teamed up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a team of designers from the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU) to create a new archetype for the housing situations of the staggeringly high number of refugees in the world.

“Quite frankly, the tents haven’t evolved much over the years,” says Olivier Delarue of UNHCR. “They still rely on canvas ropes and poles.”

The UNHCR has officially purchased 10,000 of the Ikea Foundation’s ‘Better Shelter’ and will house up to 50,000 refugees in camps around the world. Some of the perks of these new shelters include: easy shipping, 4 hour assembly (with no extra tools), light weight for transportation but strong enough to withstand harsh climates, twice as large as current shelters, solar power and much more. This is just the first iteration of the tents. IKEA hopes to lower the cost from $7,500 USD per unit to $1,000 USD once they are in mass production. Read more about IKEA’s flat-packed shelters on Architecture & Design here.

Image courtesy of The Ikea Foundation

Next City Announces 2015 Vanguard Class


Next City’s annual conference bringing together the leading urban innovators 40 and younger has announced this years Vanguard class of 2015.  With 60 participants ranging from across the U.S., as well as Canada, Mexico, Australia and Brazil, this years conference is the largest yet. The Vanguard class includes policymakers and politicians, architects and urban planners, artists and advocates all convening to provide insight on how to change cities.

This year’s conference will bring together urban designers and planners working for influential organizations including Flux Factory, a startup spun out of Google[x], the award-winning Skid Row Housing Trust, Stanford University, and the National League of Cities. We will welcome civic technology entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and Sao Paolo, Brazil as well as innovators making change through cutting-edge projects in community development, the arts and the nonprofit sector.

From May 6th to 8th, 2015 the Vanguards will meet in Reno, Nevada for a three-day series of presentations, workshops and neighborhood tours organized around the theme “Tactical Growth for a Smarter Future.” To view the full Vanguard group visit NextCity here.

Image courtesy of Brian Ball

Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design


Discussions around Africa in the media generally do not focus on the well established and innovative initiatives in design. In reaction, Vitra Design Museum chose to shed light on the plethora of contemporary African design and exhibit the symbiotic relationship between economic/political change and design on the continent. With over 120 artists and designers, Africa is presented as a platform with which to discuss the future of design in the twenty-first century. From the museum:

The exhibition focuses on a new generation of entrepreneurs, thinkers and designers from and within Africa, who – as »digital natives« – address a global audience and provide the world with a new vantage point on their continent. They often work across several disciplines simultaneously and break with conventional definitions of design, art, photography, architecture and film.

The exhibit showcases the architecture of social impact designers: Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Kunlé Adeyemi. The development of the exhibition took over two years of research with designers, artists, researchers, architects, gallerists and curators in Africa. The exhibit runs from March 14th- September 13th 2015 at Vitra Design Museum and will travel to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao from autumn 2015. Read the full description of the exhibit here.

Image courtesy of Justin Plunkett

Inclusive Design Solutions for Singapore With BetterSG


With Singapore’s 50th birthday this year, an initiative has begun to literally Better Singapore (SG) through inclusive design practices. The vision for betterSG begins on the ground, with the people that live in the neighborhoods and truly known them best. BetterSG hopes to bring people together to design, build and own the spaces in their communities.

We believe that there is an alternative future for Singapore, where designers, planners and policy makers work with everyday people to create places that the latter can own. We see people not only as consumers but also producers, because every individual has something positive to offer the design process. We want to create sustainable solutions by facilitating them instead of prescribing them, and strong communities where people are able to commit their ideas to action.

BetterSG aims to truly shift the mold by empowering community members to design and build their own solutions and give them necessary skills and resources to bring their ideas to life. Check out the array of solutions outlined on their website at bettersg.co. If you or anyone you know lives in Singapore, submit some of your ideas on how to make Singapore a better city for the people, by the people.

An Inside Look at Practicing Social Impact Design


Everyone has a different story on how they entered the field of social impact design. Impact Design Hub’s Katie Crepeau shares her journey, on the NEA blog, from the traditional architectural mold into working with social impact organizations.

“My infatuation with the container (architecture) was replaced by the contents (people)—and I came to the realization that the contents are why the container exists in the first place,” states Crepeau. “The boundaries that I had originally set around the field have been stretched and expanded beyond architecture. Services, systems, products, communications, and landscapes can all achieve social impact in a unique—and sometimes even more impactful—way.”

Crepeau digs deeper into these thoughts alongside  LATENT DESIGN’s Katherine Darnstadt, verynice’s Matt Manos, and San Francisco Planning Department’s Paul Chasan in the NEA webinar series premiering on April 8th at 3pm ET. Join Crepeau and her colleagues as they dissect the inner workings of their respective projects, origin stories, business models, and insights into future prospects in the field. Read the full blog article here and register for the free social impact design webinar with Katie Crepeau here.

Image courtesy of Lisa Bretherick

IDEO.org Launches 3rd Amplify Challenge

IDEO.org has announced the launch of its 3rd Amplify Challenge, the Refugee Education Challenge. In partnership with UK Department for International Development, UNICEF, UNHCR and OpenIDEO the IDEO.org’s Amplify Program is calling for ideas on designing education solutions that facilitate the acquisition of new skills for refugees.

Over 50 million people globally have been forced to flee their homes – leaving behind their schools, jobs and communities. Men, women and children must start again, either in new regions of their home countries or in host countries around the world. Amid uncertainty about the future, one thing is for sure: refugees need skills and information to help them adjust to their new circumstances, integrate into communities and thrive.

The beginning Research phase will focus on learning from innovative education practices in your own community. Amplify will be awarding up to $500,000 in funding and design support from IDEO.org to bring a some of the best ideas to life. Participate in the challenge today by sharing your ideas here.