The success of our profession exists within a web of ever-changing socioeconomic and political factors, and we find ourselves working tirelessly to be the best at what we do within these opportunities and constraints. We tend to be defined by our victories and left to learn from our losses, assuming our collective humility can overstep pride. My hope for us as designers, though, lays more in the context of our intangible legacies rather than built victories, and I believe that such successes will lead us to become industry leaders in the truest sense.
After traveling to Africa back in October on a mission trip, my life, both personal and professional, has been forever changed. The village where our church group stayed, Mwachinga, was the epitome of adversity – our new friends lived in straw-thatched mud huts with dirt floors and had limited access to water at great distances from their homes. Food came at a price often too high to pay, exacerbated by starved crops and livestock. Countless children, including many with special needs, went without basic education as school fees were too cumbersome. Tiny, dusty feet walked among aimlessly wandering cattle searching for anything to eat. The children were fed ugali (a stiff porridge made from corn meal and water), when possible, to absorb some of the effects of starvation, but that meal, too, could be a rare commodity. Shade was sparse, especially along the barren hillsides, but in its refuge could be found odd friendships of thin puppies, baby goats, and chickens.
In the face of this extreme adversity, the joy of the villagers when faced with our willingness to help seemed uncanny. I spent an afternoon speaking with a man about the small building he was constructing in which to help feed people via the local church we were there helping to establish. He explained his construction process more intently once he discovered my profession and we were able to re-strategize a few building hurdles in order to anticipate and withstand the impending rainy season. I am certain that collaboration was one of the greatest moments of my career.
The beauty of hope is that it traverses every landscape to claim a faithfulness that supersedes any present reality covering it. We have the unique privilege as designers and place makers for real people to first understand their realities and their needs before we make assumptions. Our pro-bono work offers a great platform for us to generate intangible legacies by genuinely getting to know the people we’re providing for. In the Dallas office, we’ve invested in our pro-bono projects by volunteering with other organizations already associated with those in need and then designing to their circumstances. Three recent examples of this kind of work stand out for me.
The True Worth Homeless Resource Center has just completed construction and had its soft opening last week. We’ll soon be able to analyze the strength of our design decisions based on the personal research we did at the front end, a lesson which will be a telling post-occupancy study for us. The Feed by Grace Master Plan project is currently being fundraised based on the package we generated from our experience serving the homeless on site. The Real School Gardens Design/Build we designed and participated in has been operational for over a year now and we’ve kept in touch with the teachers who use that space to educate their students. We’ve been able to see how our thoughtful approaches have benefited future generations, and to us, it’s been well worth the extra hours.
My hope is that we continue to forge into the most challenging and ever-changing climates within which we operate, but that we do so with a bent toward the people to whom we’re in service. To us, creating legacy should be so much more than the orchestration of tangible things to make places.
Amanda Kronk is a designer in the Dallas studio.