Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalists Announced!


The six Buckminster Fuller Challenge finalists announced this week focus on various aspects of environmental and social sustainability and combine natural systems and modern technology to address resource management. Here are a few of the 2015 Buckminster Fuller Challenge finalists:

  • Algae Systems: uses a closed-loop, systemic approach to generate value from wastewater, providing a crucial, economically and environmentally sustainable service.
  • Community Architects Network: seeks to empower people throughout Asia to become the designers of their own development.
  • Drylands Resilience Initiative and HAZEL: a powerful digital modeling tool that supports coordinated, scenario-based whole systems thinking and decision-making for water-smart urban design.
  • GreenWave: a non-profit organization working to restore ocean ecosystems and transform fishers, our last ocean hunters, into restorative ocean farmers and stewards of their local waters.

Learn more about all six finalists of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge on their website here.

Designers Play Valuable Role in Crafting Public Policy and Services


As design is increasingly recognized for its ability to effect positive change in public services, governments across the globe are incorporating internal design teams to bring specific skills and attitudes to the table as they craft public policy. Christian Bason of Mindlab (the design studio inside the Danish government) knows that there’s no single template that can be used to simply redesign the fraught and often mistrusted model of governance that currently exists, but emphasizes three core principles that governments can employ to inspire and instill confidence: empathy, humility, and courage.

“Through this work we increasingly see the contours of a more relational, empathetic, and engaging state that is designed to be much more in tune with human beings. At a time when the trust in our public institutions is at an all-time low and most economies remain fragile in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, we urgently need to discover a new role for the public sector,” Bason says.

Bason’s work includes addressing challenges like implementing national school reform, creating digital solutions that make it easier to start businesses, and navigating human-centered services for the unemployed.

Read more about how design concepts and methods like ethnography, user journeys, and system maps are used to create better policy outcomes at AIGA.

No Penalty for Poverty: A Conversation with Hugh Whalan


Hugh Whalan has started three businesses in Africa focused on innovative financing of solar power to some of the poorest consumers on the planet. His first company pioneered crowdfunding for energy loans to the developing world. His next company, a solar distribution and asset financing operation in Ghana, was acquired by a U.S. private equity firm in an industry first. He is currently running PEG, which is using pay-as-you-go technology to provide financing for solar to 500,000 customers in West Africa by 2018.

Allan Chochinov: Hugh, I’ve read in your bio that you traveled to 31 countries by the time you had turned 25 years of age. That’s some youth. What did your parents do, and did your exposure to multiple cultures stimulate your interest in your current work around … well, empowerment?

Hugh Whalan: My parents were civil servants. Mum was the first person in her family to go to university, and Dad left home at fifteen to join the Navy. In their own way, they were both risk takers, and had benefited greatly from the calculated risks they had taken. They worked hard, and sacrificed a lot to give me opportunities like spending a term at a boarding school in Japan and going on a school hiking trip to India and Nepal. The experiences I had when I was young instilled in me a sense of adventure and my parents certainly encouraged me to take smart risks. After high school, I spent time with landmine removal teams in Cambodia, taught English and geography in a Ugandan school, and worked in a refugee camp in Northern Kenya. That sense of adventure led me to the kinds of opportunities that I am now involved with. More

OpenIDEO and Amplify Seek Ideas for Urban Resilience Challenge


By 2045, an estimated six billion people will live in cities. As climate change sets in, with temperatures and sea levels rising and weather patterns becoming more erratic, cities will have to be able to respond to the changes with additional pressure from increased populations. OpenIDEO’s Amplify’s Urban Resilience Challenge, together with the Global Resilience Partnership is exploring new ideas for communities in urban slums to adapt, transform, and thrive as they meet the challenges presented by climate change. Amplify, a global network focused on tackling challenges in international development and specifically on resilience in urban slums states:

“as we build our cities to make room for growing populations and changing climate, it isn’t enough to solve for any single issue or protect against any one risk. We have the opportunity to transform social structures, small-scale infrastructure, communication systems and the way we use existing resources to build better, more resilient, places to live, work and play.”

The challenge is opening up opportunities for individuals, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, and designers to collaborate across sectors, address multiple challenges, create change, and prepare for the future.

Learn more about the challenge and submit your own ideas here.

Tulane’s New Center Focuses on Social Innovation and Design Thinking


Just before the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Tulane University’s School of Architecture founded URBANbuild, a design-build program that combines academic and technical knowledge, offering students firsthand experience in building energy-efficient homes. After Katrina, the program was in a unique place to work with the surrounding community to deal with the consequences of the storm.

“‘We had an opportunity and a responsibility to help the communities in a much greater way,’ Byron Mouton, director of URBANbuild, says. “Helping people who decided to return to understand that they had access to greater options. Since its inception, the program has spearheaded the design and execution of 10 projects, including affordable housing in underserved areas and even a pop-up community market—all have had a small-scale but deeply-felt impact on the urban fabric of New Orleans.”

Ten years after Katrina, Tulane continues to work with the community. Looking at how the natural disaster can shape the way designers deal with catastrophic hardships, the community outreach arm of the School of Architecture (Tulane City Center) has provided space for lectures, workshops, and fellowship opportunities, and has become a go-to resource for academics as well as the surrounding community.

Read more about Tulane City Center’s ongoing work with the community here.

+Acumen Offers New Free Course on Social Impact


+Acumen, a global learning community for social change makers, is offering a new course called Making Sense of Social Impact: Acumen’s Building Blocks for Impact Analysis. The course, taught by the Acumen Impact Team, will address the meaning of social impact and how to assess it, as well as preparing participants to apply the framework of understanding to initiatives and causes of personal interest.

“We believe this course will be especially insightful for those interested in impact investing, but it is by no means limited to that audience. Whether you are a philanthropist, a professional in the nonprofit, impact investing or social entrepreneurship field, or if you just want to know to ‘do good’ in a better way, this course is for you,” states the instructor.

+Acumen is a relatively new initiative by Acumen to emerging leaders with the skills they need to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Click here to register for +Acumen’s free course on Social Impact.

How Architecture Can Detangle Complex Geo-Political Relationships


Coral Frontiers, a student proposal for coral regeneration on the Island of Diego Garcia, explores how architecture can shift the balance of power, acknowledging the complex connections (and the lack thereof) between the military, the human rights of native inhabitants of the island, as well as environmental challenges.

“The project was done within the studio Architecture and Activism at the Royal College of Art… The studio set out to explore how architects can intervene in the field of politics and critically engage with contemporary urban conditions… [the proposal] explores a speculative scenario in which, due to pressure by the international community and human rights institutions, the [native inhabitants] return to their homeland.”

The proposal takes care to avoid imposing design solutions, and encourages active participation and empowerment of displaced communities.

To learn about the challenges facing the Island of Diego Garcia, read more about the Coral Frontiers proposal here.

New Documentary on Design and Informal Settlements

By 2050, one fourth of the world’s population will live in informal settlements, often called slums or shantytowns. Within Formal Cities is a documentary project by intern architects Brian Gaudio and Abe Drechsler that highlights stories from these informal settlements in South America and focuses on design’s role in addressing the global housing crisis.

“To learn about the housing crisis, Brian and Abe traveled to 5 cities: Lima, Santiago, São Paulo, Rio De Janeiro, and Bogotá where they visited projects and interviewed over 30 designers, government officials, and residents. Their goal is to inform and inspire the next generation of architects to address this problem. To date, the pair has lectured at universities, given webinars, and exhibited photographs highlighting design and infrastructure projects from South American cities.”

Gaudio and Drechsler began the documentary project in 2014 when they were awarded the Duda Traveling Fellowship from the School of Architecture at North Carolina State. The partners have succeeded in receiving financial support for their project from NC State, a crowdfunding campaign, and their local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and will continue fundraising as they complete the documentary and debut it in 2016.

Watch the documentary trailer here.


Theaster Gates Brings His Placemaking Vision to Gary, Indiana


Theaster Gates is one of the most recognizable faces at the intersection of the arts and community development in the U.S. His current initiative, creating a two-track program for culinary students and those who would start food businesses in Gary, Indiana, will address what the city’s mayor calls a “pressing need.”

“Over the past 50 years of U.S. Steel layoffs, Gary has experimented with its fair share of economic development elixirs, from urban renewal in the ’60s to casinos in the ’90s. Fifteen years ago, Gary invested more than $20 million into the Steel Yard, the 6,000-seat baseball stadium. ‘It was supposed to drive economic development,’ [Mayor Karen] Freeman-Wilson says. ‘That didn’t happen.’”

Known for his successful efforts that transformed a swath of vacant homes into art spaces in Chicago, among other highly visible and much renowned initiatives, Gates recognizes and respects the appetite for grassroots change, mindful of concerns about arts, development, and possibilities of gentrification.

Read more about Gates’ work in Gary, Indiana and beyond, at Next City.

Photo: Lloyd de Grane

“Communities Building Their Own Economies”


The most effective way to tackle complex economic issues is not simply a grassroots effort, nor is a top-down approach a viable fix. It is the combination of the two, the nurturing of community-building initiatives combined with education and accountability that provides the mechanisms by which low-income communities are able to overcome poverty, generate their own assets and recover wealth.

“Empowering communities to take control of economic development is slow, patient work—and people funding or supporting it need to take this into account when assessing success. Long-term, place-based commitments are critical; parachuting in and out does little to build local capacity” states Steve Dubb of Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Myriad examples illustrate that education-centric approaches that enable and empower low-income communities have long-term, positive impacts.

Read specific examples of these successes at the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Image: Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative