Designing in the public interest is often challenging–and controversial. How do you know when to do public interest work and when pro-bono efforts are going towards greater good? In our office with the recent launch of our pro-bono Social Impact Design Initiative and partnership with the 1% Program at Public Architecture, we continue to learn from our work… Read more »
Posts Tagged: Cinda Gilliland
Over the past year, a group of designers from all of our offices have been slowly building up a formal library of all of our various pro-bono projects we’ve been a part of over the years. While doing projects above and beyond our client work is nothing new to SWA—our involvement with the Bayous in… Read more »
Over the past year, a group of designers from all of our offices have been slowly building up a formal library of all of our various pro-bono projects we’ve been a part of over the years. While doing projects above and beyond our client work is nothing new to SWA—our involvement with the Bayous in Houston and investing in our local schools and parks are just a few of many examples—we’re excited to formalize our efforts and officially join the 1% program with Public Architecture. The 1% program is a national movement in partnership with the AIA that promotes pro bono architectural efforts in the public interest.
“The 1% program of Public Architecture connects nonprofit organizations in need of design assistance with architecture and design firms willing to donate their time on a pro bono basis. Launched by Public Architecture in 2005 with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, The 1% is a first-of-its-kind effort to encourage pro bono service within the architecture and design professions.” – Public Architecture
We believe that as designers, we are called to serve for the public good—to do design that benefits our communities, our environments, our global cities, and our world. At SWA, our social impact design initiative, spearheaded by Principal Cinda Gilliland and includes 36 designers from each of our seven offices.
Our Social Impact Design Initiative was born out of our curiosity and eagerness to find ways to continue to contribute design and planning skills locally and globally. As John Cary of Public Interest Design has written, we believe that everyone should have access to good design.
“The landscape architecture, planning and urban design community plays an increasingly necessary and important role in The 1% program,” says Amy Ress, The 1% Program Manager at Public Architecture. “We’re inspired by SWA’s vision and their commitment of more than 700 hours annually to improve communities in need.”
We’re excited about sharing more of our recent projects and chronicling our adventures here on this blog.
- Designing in the Public Interest, 6 Ways SWA Gets Better with Pro Bono Work | Practice of Architecture
- Designing in the Public Interest: Six Ways We Get Better With Pro Bono Work | IDEAS
Leave a Reply to Jeremy Wolf
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – The Philosophy of Andy Warhol A new generation of young adults would agree, according to the NPR’s series on the changing American Dream. A recent piece by Sam Sanders called “Globals’ Generation Focuses on Experience” suggesting that the American Dream… Read more »
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
A new generation of young adults would agree, according to the NPR’s series on the changing American Dream. A recent piece by Sam Sanders called “Globals’ Generation Focuses on Experience” suggesting that the American Dream of many people in their twenties is not about accumulating things: houses, families, cars, etc.; but rather about gathering experiences. The piece further suggests that these ‘globals’ recognize themselves as world citizens and interested in being agents of change. “They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to someone in Mumbai may have an effect on me West Los Angeles,” says Franklin Gilliam, Dean of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.
When Tulane University was looking to increase enrollment after Hurricane Katrina they decided, among other things, to add community service as a requirement for graduation. Applications in 2010 were double what they were in 2004, and attracted ‘a cadre of superbly responsive students”. According to Tulane’s president, Scott Cowen, “Today’s student wants an education that makes a difference.”
If landscape architecture wants to remain relevant and to attract the best and brightest, this trend begs the question: what extent can those of us in the practice of landscape architecture facilitate change things ourselves, for the public good? In addition, as discussed in a previous blog, the social impact design model is often different from standard operating practice in most established landscape architectural firms. Identifying a potential project and developing that into a paying project is an entrepreneurial challenge. Understanding how to create societal change may start with learning how to create change within an organization, one’s own firm. Building on the existing company culture, evolving an established business model requires seeing, and learning to communicate, how the design process can be applied to a variety of problems.
When talking about change one can quickly become overwhelmed. The established order has so much inertia. The complexity of our world is daunting. Where does one start to unravel the mess? What will really make a difference? If we look at the question more generally by focusing on goals: “what changes are needed to move us to a more just, equitable, sustainable, peaceful world?” it becomes more manageable in a right brain kind of way. It is more manageable in that one can start anywhere. I would argue that a healthier and happier society, is made up of a more resilient, less frightened populace. A more resilient less frightened populace is one more ready to make intelligent choices and embrace beneficial change.
For the landscape architecture profession the question then is: what goals and what changes can the landscape reasonably expect to facilitate? And what tools do we have that can be applied to task of achieving those societal goals?
Creating opportunities for health and happiness are naturally the realm of landscape and the garden, but we can do much more by making these conscious goals, and by applying the lessons of biophilia, attention restoration theory, many public health professionals, nature deficit disorder theory, to name a few, to our designs and master plans.
The sustainability tent is getting bigger and the discussion is broadening beyond issues of resource conservation to include goals of equity, inclusivity, and habitat creation, as well as health and happiness. Landscape architects can welcome this evolution of the field by increasing our understanding of issues usually outside of pure landscape architecture. This is not the time to keep tilling the well-tilled furrow that is our comfort zone. We need to be curious and look well beyond our field, extending the inclusivity of our design vocabulary.
As landscape architects we can facilitate a greater sense of rootedness and resilience in the communities we work through preservation and/or imaginative reuse of existing conditions. This is more obvious if there is some evident historical significance to interpret, but is equally if not more important if the existing elements simply suggest a historic pattern of use in a particular landscape. Rather than wipe the slate clean, what happens if we acknowledge and give a nod to the use patterns, wisdom, and embedded creativity of what came before.
Jonah Lehrer in his book ‘Imagine’ argues that we all have the potential to be creative. (The recent revelations that he was a bit too creative with supposed Bob Dylan quotes do not diminish the relevance of the book.) I would argue that manifesting creativity is a deeply satisfying human experience, and one that is catching. Any of us that can put design ingenuity to work in the public realm not only improves the quality of public space, but beyond that shows that more is possible, anywhere and everywhere.
Finally and most importantly, by being the change we want to see in the world we can lead the way. By being curious, by designing revelatory, resilient and evolutionary landscapes our clients and the end users will benefit.
Below is my list of goals and tools found in the landscape architect’s repertoire:
GOALS :: TOOLS
- Greater rootedness/resilience –– Preservation, imaginative reuse;
- Creativity/inspiration –– Design ingenuity;
- Health –– biking, greenery, liveliness, rejuvenation;
- Happiness –– biophilia, connections to nature, etc.;
- Inclusion/diversity –– inclusive design vocabulary;
- Sustainability –– habitat preservation and creation, sustainable materials, responsible energy and water use, energy generation, reductions in chemical reliance;
- Comfort with change and risk –– Preservation, imaginative reuse, adaptation.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead.
So tell me: How can the profession of landscape architecture be more responsive to the challenge raised by the ‘global generation’? What change do you want to see? How can you do more? What have I goals or tools have I missed?
One Response to “Being the Change”
Leave a Reply to Jeremy Wolf
My first exposure to the community of social impact design was the Public Architecture sponsored Design Access Summit. The summit gathered a group of articulate people with depth in the diverse range of assets required for success in this work. A range of the topics was explored both in short presentations and in very active… Read more »
My first exposure to the community of social impact design was the Public Architecture sponsored Design Access Summit. The summit gathered a group of articulate people with depth in the diverse range of assets required for success in this work. A range of the topics was explored both in short presentations and in very active small group discussions.
My first take away was that social impact design calls for a much more entrepreneurial skill set than the usual architectural firm ‘waiting for client to come up with a project’ model. Working actively in this realm often requires, or provides, an opportunity, for a designer to identify an problem or issue and then go out and identify stakeholders, partners and funding sources. Or a potential client has identified a need but needs the project to be defined and articulated in order to pursue funding, whether grants or donations. As in regular practice having a good team of collaborators is an asset, but for social impact design projects a more diverse group of resources is required. A successful project is predicated on a rich social asset resource base.
A few highlights of the two days:
Perhaps due to the lack of specificity there was a lot of talk about the need for specificity. Roman Mars, creator of the 99% Invisible radio show, addressed the subject of the story suggesting the motto ‘Specificity is the soul of the narrative’ and demonstrating the same brilliantly in a piece about the Plimsoll line in the style of NPR’s ‘This American Life’ or ‘Radiolab’. In a breakout session Roman also said that in order to motivate one’s social assets you need to have a good story, specific ‘asks’, and a common (specific) language or clear goal. Stated another way Lakshmi Ramarajan from the Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business school outlined, in a session called Rethinking Service Delivery, the steps for changing external structures as 1)Framing the issue, 2)Mobilizing others, and 3)Engaging the rule makers.
The idea of pro bono itself was batted about. Brian Healy, a design principal at Perkins + Will’s Boston office, wondered, in another breakout session, if we didn’t devalue our skills by giving them away, a problem acknowledged even by John Peterson of Public Architecture regarding the internal debate at Public over the name of their new book ‘The Power of Pro Bono’. (Then the graphics designer pointed out all the ‘0’s in the title.) Ideally people want to do work that matters, is good and pays. Ideally we want to put our talents and skills to work for clients who share our values.
The question of metrics kept popping up: Would we be more successful in securing work in line with our ideals if we could better articulate/measure the difference design can make? Or maybe more clearly stated: Are metrics a valuable tool for better articulating the design’s value? Can the therapeutic value of design be better demonstrated? Measurement was seen by some as a tool for justifying an approach and facilitating collaboration. I continue to be surprised by the way the discussion of metrics with regard to design generates a response that is, by all appearances, is defensive. I still don’t understand the dichotomy between inspiration and metrics, especially in a field as practical and concrete at architecture.
Julie Eizenberg, of Koning Eizenberg Architects, in her talk in the session entitled “Overcoming Barriers: Successes and Failures”, made an elegant and inspiring case for having every project add joy and knowledge about the world to our community fund of good. She said that “philanthropists like projects that inspire”. I would extend that: philanthropists are not the only ones. The public in general doesn’t know what the design process can offer. While designers are taught to cast a wide net around a problem, as Julie pointed out, the public isn’t even expecting inspiration, thinking that smaller is better.
If we subscribe to the ethical and political activism of adding ‘joy and knowledge of the world’ to our public dialogue through design we can no longer limit our practice to benefitting only those with adequate means. The best summation, at present, of my ongoing trip through the public good or purposeful design community, is that we as designers have a valuable skill that could serve the greater good in broad, far-reaching ways, ways that most of us, practicing traditional design in the traditional delivery method, are only just beginning to grasp.
Leave a Reply to Jeremy Wolf
Is social impact design limited to a design process that engages a community in need, to reach a specific solution or can a meaningful definition also include designs which seek, in some unspecific way, to change a cultural condition for the better, for the public good? When the community to be served is looking for… Read more »
Is social impact design limited to a design process that engages a community in need, to reach a specific solution or can a meaningful definition also include designs which seek, in some unspecific way, to change a cultural condition for the better, for the public good? When the community to be served is looking for specific problems to be solved and anticipates specific expected outcomes are we right to address other, unmet and unrecognized, needs? What happens when the values we bring to our practice are in conflict with the values of the community to be served?
Take designing a park in San Ramon, California: San Ramon is a suburb with an office park that houses the corporate headquarters for Chevron, 24-hour Fitness, Safeway, the western headquarters for ATT and others at its heart, and no downtown—just shopping malls. The main organizing design feature of the community is roads, big, wide, sweeping roads designed to allow for the smooth and unimpeded flow of the big cars that seem to be favored. With all those big cars, and the big parks designed to attract the right kind of upper middle-class, family-oriented homebuyer, this is not a community in need in the traditional sense. In fact many people like San Ramon just as it is, but having participated in public workshops in San Ramon for an anticipated ‘town center’ I know that the longing for what I would define as an urban heart, one that is human-, rather than automobile-focused, is acute.
The town center didn’t happen, but, later, when asked to design a community park for San Ramon I felt obliged to put “some there, there”. We were given a ‘rancho’ theme for the park by the city, which our team translated as a ‘California ranch’ concept with a strongly landscape focused theme, one with integrity and human-scale detailing supporting the concept. If designing a park around people doesn’t seem like news, just wait. Though our direct client, Shapell Homes, and the head of Parks and Recreation wanted to build a great park, there is still a debate of our interests of aesthetics, comfort, pleasure, and public good against the city’s Department of Public Works concerns for maintenance and safety.
The musician Mitsuko Uchida said, “the world is not full of wonderful things and people are longing for good things.” My definition of the public good would include enhancing our society with a creative, vital and engaged populace. In designing for a community rich in ‘amenities’ , like clean parks, but lacking in a place created with this deeper sense of the public good in mind, and for a client (the city but, really, also the community) still debating the need for or lack of ‘good things.” What does the would-be social impact designer do?
My instincts as a professional designer are to add to the community’s sense of place and possibility. Maybe help this community see the possibility that giving up some portion of convenience and a perception of safety could result in greater gains of more life-affirming feelings of vitality, resilience, and, perhaps even, meaning. Some specific components might include: a rich plant palette, habitat creation, a ‘theme’ that was not about decoration, but spoke to the history of the area through integrated design details, a sub theme of creating great landscape spaces, and a rich variety of ways to experience, and to play in the park.
For the design team the heart of the park was the playground, and the scene of our greatest disappointments. The typical playground in the United States is very safe, but sterile and equipment-centric. San Ramon is no different. Our goal was to design a playground that built on a child’s innate creativity. We would have a landscape woven through the playground areas, picking up on Richard Louv’s ideas about Nature Deficit Disorder. Finally we hoped to capture a bit of magic. The children’s play area of our dreams had a seasonal stream, water play that involved running water with movable weirs, low bridges, groves, fruit trees, flowers, grassy mounds to roll down, and open ended play structures. There were moderate concerns about safety issues with the water play and the potential for kids to wedge themselves under the bridges, but maintenance concerns and fears of the unknown are the biggest killers of all things wonderful.
So much of the built environment in new ‘cities’ like San Ramon lacks a feeling of a moral core or purpose. The tendency to let ‘the marketplace’ determine the product means that the buildings and landscape are very practical. If the community can afford it the park will have baseball, basketball, soccer, cricket, tennis, playgrounds, etc. The residents, if they have a sense of wanting something less mundane, don’t know what to ask for, or how to ask. If the suburban landscape reads as if no one cared about the well being of the spirit of future inhabitants, maybe it’s because the planners were making sure no one complained about traffic, or parking – those eternal bugaboos of our auto-centric society, and of urban designers, city staff and elected officials everywhere. Paul Erhlich, said recently on NPR’s Living on the Earth, “We’re gonna rebuild the country over the next 70 years in the reverse of what we did in the last 70 years, and instead of designing it around automobiles, we’re gonna design it around people.” Until then we give them parks. San Ramon’s parks are nothing if not clean and efficient, but perhaps we will, in the future, cast a wider net on our vision of human-centric design, envisioning parks in all our towns that are designed to help create community, that are places that the kids will remember fondly, and that increase their understanding of the world?
Our park in San Ramon is not yet built and our ideas are still just words and drawings, but I’m writing about the experience, perhaps, because I’m affirming my belief that we designers and developers serve the public good by raising the bar of the intelligence that we manifest in our built environment. We need to be leaders by manifesting creativity and integrity in our processes and in our results because it will inspire and open minds and hearts. Thomas Jefferson believed in democracy because he believed that the truth will win out in the end and so, the optimist in me says, working for the public good in any and all arenas will lead to open minds and a thus create a better society, one with more integrity in its decision-making process and less fear of differences. We have the potential to move society forward with what we create, so, I ask the question: Do we have the moral obligation to inspire, to make ‘wonderful things’? My answer is, simply, “Yes.”
Photograph of Rancho San Ramon Park by Bill Tatham.
Leave a Reply to Jeremy Wolf
I like change. When the timing is right, change is exhilarating. Being the author, or even midwife, of positive change is a worthy life’s work. The innovative work of IDEO is about change and human centered design. IDEO has intrigued me for some time, perhaps in part because they see the role of design as… Read more »
I like change. When the timing is right, change is exhilarating. Being the author, or even midwife, of positive change is a worthy life’s work. The innovative work of IDEO is about change and human centered design.
IDEO has intrigued me for some time, perhaps in part because they see the role of design as less one of authorship and more one of midwifery. David Kelley and his colleagues at IDEO have developed and codified their design process, calling it Design Thinking. Corporations of all kinds are calling on them to teach the tools of creativity. The folks at IDEO go out and see what people need, and, yet, I couldn’t exactly see how the Design Thinking process could be applicable to my field, landscape architecture.
In a similar vein the work of the 1% program at Public Architecture, has been an (unfulfilled) interest. So when I heard through a mutual acquaintance, about Liz Ogbu, a fellow at IDEO.org and a former architect at Public Architecture, I had to meet her. A couple of months ago we had lunch and my mind was opened. I wanted to know everything about taking the benefits of design to the people.
Now you should know that I came of age in the early ’70s, the former heyday of the environmental movement when change was certainly in the air. I have been thrilled to be active in a field that plays a role in the second (or is it the third?) coming of the environmental movement. And this time it feels like the time is right.
With most of the effort focused on energy, waste, carbon and water the human and social aspects of the built environment (with the exceptions of natural light and indoor air quality) have been left out of the discussion. This seems odd for a profession like architecture, which considers itself one of the arts. As Michael Kimmelman said recently in the New York Times, writing about architecture-based revitalization in Medellin, Colombia, “Architects have “focused much of their attention on formal experiments, as if aesthetics and social concerns… were mutually exclusive.” He goes on to say that they’re not, and shouldn’t be.
As landscape architect, it seems obvious that conversations about human need for an ongoing relationship with the world of nature, sometimes referred to as biophilia, need to become part of the sustainability discussion. In health and happiness terms, a growing body of studies shows that nature is restorative for those suffering from stress (Attention Restoration Theory), helps build community thereby reducing crime and domestic violence, and helps inner city girls do better in school. That the presence of nature in the built environment has a positive effect on health outcomes is now well documented by the work of Robert S. Ulrich and others. Public Health educators, like Richard Jackson at UCLA, has been studying how the design of the built environment affects the health of individuals and communities.
Less documented are the benefits of to the human psyche of the aesthetics of design in general, and of the design of the built environment in particular. But going back to IDEO, Public Architecture (creating access to the benefits of design for underserved communities), and Liz Ogbu, I thought maybe here was a place to synthesize parallel beliefs in the power of creativity, the benefits of aesthetics and the importance of environmental awareness while doing work aligned with my values. With all these different threads weaving and unweaving in my mind I embarked on a one week immersion in the world of Public Interest/Social Impact/Design for Good. I managed to procure a last minute invitation to Public Architecture’s first annual Design Access Summit, then attended the Public Interest Design Institute, (getting SEED certification), followed by the 12th Structures for Inclusion conference.
What I learned is that having, or learning, the mindset and tactics of a social entrepreneur is a good start. The traditional mode for design firms of waiting for projects to be identified and funded by others is unlikely to result in much social impact design work. In 2002 Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class put out a call to innovators of all kinds to put their talents to work in their societies in support of social betterment. Social impact design is one answer to that call. We designers and builders can envision a different structure than we see now, perhaps like Stewart Brand who from the Whole Earth Catalog (1968 -1972) to the Long Now Foundation, sees a fluid, evolving, dynamic, beautiful whole earth. I believe that evolution is good. Maybe like change because I’m an optimist and I’ve learned that I’m not the only one.