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Designing for Equity: Using a Civil Rights Framework


The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s moved pivotal barriers that segregated and discriminated communities based on race. The civic consciousness was active and awake, numerous grassroots efforts reached a critical mass and the Civil Rights Movement implemented strategies that permanently changed legislation. The outcome resulted in three landmark laws: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned the discrimination of people based on their race, color, religion, or national origin in employment practices and public accommodations; The Voting Rights Act 1965, which prohibited discrimination in voting; and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which lifted discriminatory restrictions on immigration based on ethnicity.

Fifty years after the marches from Selma, in today’s context of #blacklivesmatter, we are reminded that in 2015 some fundamental civil rights are still not accessible to all people. There are many systems—economic, educational, criminal—that produce inequitable, unjust environments that, by design, are meant to disempower and marginalize communities. Social justice movements work towards transforming these systems, with the goal that everyone is represented and that all outcomes are equitably beneficial to all. More

Homegrown Cities Project by URBZ

Homegrown_CitiesUser-Generated Cities (URBZ) believes that the right to decide on housing related issues is best left at a local level. For the past 6 years, URBZ has been working in Mumbai to do just that. Their focus is on the highly under-served “slum” areas where government-led initiatives have failed to provide affordable housing that actually benefit the communities. Founders Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava share their thoughts:

Our contention is that only by working within the existing fabric and with local actors, can urbanists, architects, engineers and policy makers contribute meaningfully to ongoing user-lead improvement in homegrown neighbourhoods. This is why we have just launched the project Homegrown Cities that aims at demonstrating that common sensical alternatives to ‘redevelopment’ do exist.

The project was launched by working with local masons to build one house in the area. They then plan to repeat the process and innovate as they go. Follow the project trajectory here.

NYCSA Grants Available Through Van Alen


The Van Alen Institute is offering a fantastic opportunity for architecture, design, and historic preservation professionals through the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Independent Project grants.

NYSCA’s 2015 program in Architecture + Design makes grants of up to $10,000 available for individuals (or a team) to creatively explore, or to research an issue or problem in the fields of architecture, design and/or historic preservation which advances that field and contributes to the public’s understanding of design. Projects may lead to the creation of design prototypes, explore new technology which impacts design, research a topic in design or architectural history, or engage in critical or theoretical analyses.

Van Alen will choose 20 Independent Projects to sponsor through this program. To apply, please download the registration form and the application form here. Applications are due by midnight on March 23, 2015. More information on the grants can be found here.

Why Architecture for Humanity Will Survive


The recent closure of Architecture For Humanity (AFH) has left many questioning the realities of working in the field of humanitarian design. It is easy to jump to pessimistic conclusions, as one publication suggested, the “future of socially responsible design may hang in the balance.” Frances Anderton takes a different approach to examining this issue, in her article Why Architecture for Humanity Will Survive the Demise of ‘Architecture for Humanity,’ asserting that this is most definitely not the end of architects serving humanity.

This is because to say an architect is not “for humanity” is like saying a doctor is not for saving lives. The profession is for many an underpaid calling, and architects, however egomaniacal they might seem at times, will generally throw themselves with equal zeal into designing affordable housing and elementary schools as they will private residences and art museums.

Whether one agrees with Anderton’s statements is neither here nor there. The article raises several points that directly critique AFH’s model and brings to light a different perspective on how to view humanitarian design work. Read the full article here. See what the AFH chapters are up to now by reaching out on Twitter at @afh_chapters or find your local chapter via their website AFHNetwork.org.

OpenIDEO’s Top Ideas for Zero to Five Challenge Released

The OpenIDEO community has tackled an immense challenge, to design solutions that facilitate children to prosper in their first five years of life.

Parents and other caregivers play the most influential role in ensuring children have the best possible start in life, but in low-income communities there are substantial barriers to overcome. This challenge focuses on designing solutions that help parents navigate these obstacles, so that children everywhere not only survive — but thrive — in their early years.

This particular challenge summoned a wide range of design solutions such as: Using Packaging for Education and Play, Tracking Maternal Depression and Child Growth and Preventing Illness Through Improved Flooring. OpenIDEO will choose a handful of the winners to receive funding or design support to bring their ideas to life. Take a look at all the 10 top ideas here.

RAW Design/Build Course in Provence, France


Real Architecture Workshop (RAW) is back from a two year hiatus to offer students the opportunity to participate in a design/build architecture studio course in the South of France. In collaboration with the Institute for American Universities (IAU) and the Marchutz School of Fine Arts, Provence 2015 allows students to be immersed in the rich architectural, artistic and cultural traditions of Southern France. Students can expect to be:

Working at multiple scales, students gain a broad understanding of the historically rich context of Provence while exploring their architectural intuition and their personal, authentic approach to design.

This 3 week, 3 credit course runs from June 8-26 2015. Applications are due on April 15th, 2015. Find out more information on the course here.

Image courtesy of RAW

Urban-Think Tank’s Housing Prototype for South African Slums

Urban-Think Tank has joined forces with ETH Zürich university to develop a design strategy to improve informal housing for the over 2700 slum dwellers across South Africa. The first step in this process is the Empower Shack, a design-build workshop in Khayelitsha to build a low-cost two story home equipped with electricity and a watertight exterior for a local resident.

“Our work on the Empower Shack project is not the result of the usual architectural pursuit for a new housing typology,” said Urban-Think Tank co-founder Alfredo Brillembourg. “While we are absolutely trying to innovate upon the design and technology of low-cost housing, we’re more concerned with the general ‘system’ that surrounds housing in the context of informal South African settlements.”

From this prototype, designers are researching different iterations to adapt to resident’s needs. Read the full description of the project on Dezeen here.

Design for Social Impact at UArts


The University of the Arts is now offering a Master’s of Design in Design for Social Impact. This MDes program equips students with the tools to become a leading agent for social change. The curriculum is hands-on and deals with current real world community centered design scenarios.

“No matter what kind of undergraduate degree you have, if you are creative with an exploratory nature, if you have the ability to see larger patterns and make connections between complex issues, if you have a sense of empathy for other people and their experiences, and if you’re willing to question preconceived notions, the Master of Design in Design for Social Impact program at the University of the Arts can help you get to where you want to go” says Jeremy Beaudry, Director of the program.

The MDes program is still accepting applications for Fall enrollment. Learn more about the application process and requirements, here.

Announcing the Impact Design Database!

IDH database

On February 27th, 2012 there was an unprecedented convening hosted in New York City called the “Social Impact Design Summit,” which brought together 34 leaders in impact design to address challenges, opportunities, and future goals within the field [1]. The result of the summit was a white paper, which included a list of proposals generated by the 34 leaders. The number one proposal was to “develop or build on existing web-based knowledge hubs to integrate information – such as a database of resources and potential funding opportunities.”

Since reading that sentence two years ago, our team at the Impact Design Hub has been working to create that database. Thanks to the support of the Autodesk Foundation, the Impact Design Database is not only real, but it is free and available online to all. We know this is not the first time a database like this has been created, there are many similar sites out there today such as Design Other 90 NetworkSocinn, Spatial Agency, and TedCity2.0, just to name a few. So why re-invent the wheel? What is the point of creating yet another database? More

Rural Studio’s Energy-Efficient Sustainable Home for $20K


Rural Studio at Auburn University has been working for more than 20 years on designing and building fully functional homes, donating them to local citizens and all for a total cost of $20,000. This design challenge has been instrumental in not only giving students a wealth of experience in the field, but also giving citizens highly energy efficient livable houses.

We can actually get out of the academic research realm and create a real product that can enable people to better their lives,” Andrew Freear says. “The biggest challenge is, how do you keep the price down? How do you keep a builder—if he knows it’s worth $40,000—from asking $40,000? Especially when we know you can make a decent living charging $20,000 to build one. How do you stop someone from reducing the material quality?

The goal is to use $15,000 for building materials and $5,000 for labor. Although most homes have only one bedroom and measure 600 to 800 square feet, this can be a daunting goal to achieve. Read the full article on Line//Shape//Space and see how Rural Studio is proving that an energy-efficient home can be built for $20k.

Image courtesy of Timothy Hursley