Architects and designers have long experimented with solutions to social and environmental issues, from early prefab houses to green buildings. Now, a growing movement among design professionals aims to take those principles further. Public interest design emphasizes a “triple bottom line” that incorporates ecological, economic and social issues in the planning process. We speak to professionals in the field who’d like to see the trend grow.


  • Bryan Bell Executive Director, Design Corps; Founder, Public Interest Design Institute; cofounder, SEED.
  • Jason Schupbach Director of Design, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Anne Frederick Executive Director, Hester Street Collaborative

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  • 12:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's not a new idea. Architects and designers have long experimented with solutions to society's ills through better design. Early champions include Jane Jacobs and her community-based planning. But a growing movement among design professionals aims to take those principles farther.

  • 12:07:16

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIPublic interest design emphasizes a triple bottom line, one that incorporates ecological, economic and social issues in the planning process, with accountability along the way. And there are a number of people, including many idealistic young architects and designers, who'd like to see this trend grow. Joining us to talk about it is Jason Schupbach. He is director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts. Jason Schupbach, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:45

    MR. JASON SCHUPBACHThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:07:46

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Bryan Bell. He is the executive director of Design Corps. He's also the founder of the Public Interest Design Institute and co-founder of the SEED network for social, economic and social economic environmental design. He's the author of "Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism." Bryan will be giving a lecture at the University of Maryland at 6:15 on Friday, Feb. 15. That talk, free and open to the public. Bryan Bell, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:16

    MR. BRYAN BELLThank you, Kojo. Great to be here.

  • 12:08:18

    NNAMDIGlad you could join us. It's a conversation you, too, can join at 800-433-8850. Do you think design can help address social and environmental problems? 800-433-8850. Bryan, what is public interest design?

  • 12:08:34

    BELLGreat question. Well, as you said, architects and designers have always wanted to serve the public good, but we have not realized that capacity. Over the last 10 years, there have been some changes that really have shown that this is emerging as a field, just like public interest law and public interest medicine, and we're calling it public interest design. So we think that we're achieving a new capacity to address these critical issues in the world and to serve 100 percent of the public.

  • 12:09:14

    NNAMDIAs we said, these ideas are not necessarily new, but the modern movement that you're building was sparked in the late 1960s when the civil rights leader Whitney Young challenged those at the American Institute of Architects' national convention in 1968.

  • 12:09:31

    NNAMDIAnd here's what he said: "You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights. And I am sure this does not come to you as any shock. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance." Ouch. Tough words. Can you talk a little bit about the effect that they had on the profession and how the movement developed after that?

  • 12:09:59

    BELLWell, that certainly was a great moment, a great challenge by Whitney Young to the profession, and that is the challenge we are rising to. We continue to try and reach that capacity. We do -- we always refer to that moment. It did spark a movement in the '60s really with community design centers, a lot of them university based and based in neighborhoods. I was a very fundamental part of this public interest design, but I have to say did not reach a capacity of serving what we like to say the 100 percent that our goal is to serve.

  • 12:10:40

    NNAMDIJason Schupbach, and if we're taking a historical look at this kind of social impact design, you would point us even farther back well before it even had a name.

  • 12:10:53

    SCHUPBACHYeah. Absolutely. I think...

  • 12:10:55

    NNAMDIAs far back as Roman times.

  • 12:10:57


  • 12:10:58

    SCHUPBACHI mean, I think there's been a long history of creative people and talented designers wanting to affect communities and affect them in positive ways and to help all sorts of types of people. And I think what we're seeing now is very exciting because there's a great groundswell of interest within the actual architectural practice itself in the schools with the young people wanting to really make this the basis of their practice.

  • 12:11:25

    NNAMDIWhy do you think that's happening? Why do you think it's catching on at this moment, especially among young people going into design and architecture now?

  • 12:11:33

    SCHUPBACHI think it's sort of a worldwide movement with young people wanting to make the world a better place. I think it's a real trend within the Millennials, and I think that you're seeing that trend plug into the design field. And so, you know, as the federal agency that supports the creative life of design in the country, the National Endowment for the Arts, we're really interested in what kind of systems we can build to really help support those young people as they want to do this work.

  • 12:11:57

    NNAMDIJoining us now by telephone and soon to be joining us in studio is Anne Frederick. She is the executive director of the Hester Street Collaborative. That's a nonprofit that seeks to empower underserved communities. Anne Frederick, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:12:11

    MS. ANNE FREDERICKThank you.

  • 12:12:12

    NNAMDIAnne, how would you describe how the community-based design fits into this?

  • 12:12:18

    FREDERICKI'm sorry. Can you repeat that?

  • 12:12:20

    NNAMDIHow does community-based design fit in with this whole concept of public interest design?

  • 12:12:27

    FREDERICKWell, I think there's a lot of different expressions of community-based design that are very much informed by the places where they've been developed and grown. And our studio is sort of an example of that in that it's very much grown out of the interest of designers being based in the Lower East Side and Chinatown and Lower Manhattan and really trying to understand what the needs are there in that community and how we as designers can respond to those needs, so really kind of trying to look at a bottom-up process that is rooted in the existing community development work that's happening around us.

  • 12:13:12

    NNAMDIAnd got to go to telephones now because people are already calling. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Are you an architect or designer? Do you find the field limited to high-end jobs with little social impact or not? Call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Ned in Washington, D.C. Ned, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:33

    NEDHello. I'm a (word?) from the University of Colorado, class of '75. And one of the people we studied was Moshe Safdie and his habitat design at the Canadian World Fair in '67. There are designs out there -- and I agree with everything I've heard so far -- that people can, with this new movement -- and I knew it was going to happen. It's the kind of thing -- Denver was so frustrating.

  • 12:13:57

    NEDWith the seven-county region, they had a multimodal system proposed. They had construction people, the -- anyway. And this consortium of automobile dealerships -- Rickenbaugh Cadillac in particular -- defeated a concept, a design that would have shaped the growth of Denver in the '70s when it needed it the most and offered bike paths, multimodal transportation and open space. So it's good to hear this movement happening, but there are some roots out there and shoulders to stand on. Keep it up.

  • 12:14:34

    NNAMDICare to comment on that, Bryan Bell?

  • 12:14:35

    BELLYeah, I would. I think Ned brings up a great point, which is that a lot of design decisions had been made by a very small percentage of the population. And as you said, things have been stopped by some small private interests. What I think is really going to scale about this is the relationship between design and democracy. People want to be involved in the decisions that shape their lives.

  • 12:15:04

    BELLThis is a fundamental democratic principle, and that includes the built environment. So what public interest design is about is allowing people to participate, as Anne was saying, in the decisions that shape their neighborhood, shape their schools, shape their jobs. And I think that's why public interest design has a real capacity because it does relate to this fundamental democratic principle.

  • 12:15:32

    NNAMDIMost of us have heard of LEED certification, Bryan, for environmental sustainability. But what, pray tell, is SEED certification?

  • 12:15:41

    BELLGreat. Well, most people have heard about LEED, and I think green design, LEED, is the certification system for green design that is now commonly accepted and understood by the public, by politicians and by even corporate interests. So let me take us back 10 years ago because one of the things we're talking about is what's happened now. Why is now different? Ten years ago, everybody was saying everything was green. And there's really no way of understanding what was and what wasn't. What LEED has done is sort of set a professional standard of what green is.

  • 12:16:19

    BELLAnd now, the consequences of that is that the public understands the relationship between the environment and design. That is a huge shift. Now, that's opening the door. The environment is not the only issue, the only challenge that we face. So what we're saying in public interest design is let's look at the triple bottom line. What about social issues? What about economic issues? Let's not stop with the environment. Let's keep going.

  • 12:16:50

    NNAMDIHow does SEED standard, so to speak, or certification compare, if you will, with LEED certification for sustainable building?

  • 12:16:59

    BELLYes. Well, there are some fundamental differences. LEED is a checklist, and people score platinum, gold, silver based on how many points they check off. SEED is very different than that.

  • 12:17:15

    NNAMDIBecause it's not easy to quantify the principles involved in public interest design, is it?

  • 12:17:19

    BELLWell, actually, so the way we determine what metrics used are determined by each neighborhood, so it's based on a logic model, which is something that funders use to say, "What are the local solutions for local communities?" So in SEED, each community, with the involvement of a professional designer, decides what their goals are and how they're going to measure success.

  • 12:17:45

    BELLSo it's right. There's no one model. It's not like LEED where there's one checklist for everybody. Every community comes up with their own checklist, and that is the measure of their own success.

  • 12:17:55

    NNAMDIJason, social impact design is something the National Endowment for the Arts has supported for a long time. Can you talk about that?

  • 12:18:03

    SCHUPBACHSure. Absolutely. You know, Bryan's organization, Anne's organization have actually been funded by us in the past. Many -- one of the reasons we're so interested in this new movement of social impact design public, public interest design, humanitarian design. It has many names. Design for the public good. It -- they all sort of mean the same thing.

  • 12:18:24

    SCHUPBACHWe were seeing within our grants a trend of the growth of these kinds of projects and organizations coming in. And so, as a responsible funder, we were very interested in kind of what was going on in the field, how can we continue to build a series of support systems if this is a growing trend in the field. And so we started to really reach out and talk to a lot of people all across the field about what was going on.

  • 12:18:49

    SCHUPBACHAnd what we heard was just overwhelming evidence that this is going to be an incredible interest of people in the field and, like I said before, young people. So we actually put together last year with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and a couple of other foundations a little social impact design summit.

  • 12:19:08

    SCHUPBACHAnd we'll be releasing a paper next week on -- that talks about really what are the needs of the field, what are the gaps in the field right now for young designers who want to go into this, what are the kinds of things that they need to do this work well in the communities, how do we tell the stories of the impacts of this kind of projects better and really look at the systems within this. It's not necessarily new but within the sort of new definition of how people are doing this work.

  • 12:19:37

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on public interest design. You can join it by calling 800-433-8850. Do you think design can help address social and environmental problems, and if so, how? You can also send email to, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or you can go to our website,, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:21:39

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking public interest design, what it is, how it works, what is its relationship to community. We're talking with Bryan Bell. He is the executive director of Design Corps. He's also the founder of the Public Interest Design Institute and co-founder the SEED network for Social Economic Environmental Design. He's the author of "Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism."

  • 12:22:01

    NNAMDIJason Schupbach is the director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts. And joining us now in studio is Anne Frederick, executive director of the Hester Street Collaborative. That's a nonprofit that seeks to empower underserved communities. Anne Frederick, good to see you in person.

  • 12:22:18

    FREDERICKThank you. Good to be here.

  • 12:22:19

    NNAMDIAs someone working in this field, how do SEED assessments help to guide your work?

  • 12:22:25

    FREDERICKWell, I think what is useful about SEED is it is a very broad logic model, and it does allow for, I think, the complexity and the uniqueness of individual places and communities that are doing this work. So because the metrics are so expansive, I think we can find ones that align with the needs that have been identified by the communities that we work with.

  • 12:22:51

    NNAMDIAnd just to be clear, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Can you talk about another architect's work, the work of Jamie Blosser? Bryan?

  • 12:23:02

    BELLSure. Jamie's an amazing young architect who's worked with a Native American community in Taos, N.M. basically by having a relationship with the executive director of the Tribal Housing Authority, Tomasita Duran. Jamie and Tomasita said, wouldn't it be great to bring life back to the pueblo? Basically, the original ceremonial area that had been -- basically, people have been moving out. The reason people have been moving out is because HUD have been providing housing, double-wide trailers, that were more attractive than the traditional adobe houses.

  • 12:23:42

    BELLSo -- but it was really draining the life from a 400-year-old culture. So Jamie and Tomasita got together using HUD funds, revising the secretary of interior's standards for historic preservation. They're bringing families back to the historic pueblo and, as Tomasita said in a tearful moment, that she hopes this community will last for another 400 years. It's really an amazing project.

  • 12:24:10

    NNAMDIWhere do green building and public interest design dovetail, if you will?

  • 12:24:16

    BELLWell, the environment is one of the issues. There's no doubt about it. But, you know, people who work in social and economic equity and justice, we feel that, you know, this should be part of the conversation, too. In fact, every community has a unique blend of challenges. So it's not right to come to a community and say, well, we'll help you.

  • 12:24:40

    BELLBut we're only interested in the environment. So we really think that people -- a designer, if they're engaged in this discussion, just like Jamie was with Tomasita, you should come to a community and say, what are your challenges? And then our job is to say, this is how we think design can address those challenges.

  • 12:24:57

    NNAMDIWe had a caller who could not stay on line who raised the question of how do you get the community involved, Anne Frederick, in the same way that institution seem to be involved in these projects?

  • 12:25:09

    FREDERICKWell, I think for us, we really strongly believe that we kind of become involved when the community identifies a need. And we're fortunate to work in a neighborhood that has a very long-standing tradition of activism and community development and organizing work that we connect to and we build off of. And so we really believe in that bottom-up process, where the people who stand to be affected by changes to their neighborhood identify their own needs.

  • 12:25:39

    FREDERICKAnd then we kind of come and play a complimentary role in supporting -- by providing technical assistance and resources that may not be present already in some of the partner organizations that we work with to really -- to meet that need and to really respond to what residents are saying they want for their community and to sort of help, you know, support a kind of civic -- or creative civic engagement.

  • 12:26:07

    NNAMDISometimes -- I'm glad you mentioned creative because sometimes it seems to require a little ingenuity. You encountered this on your work in New York's Chinatown. What was the situation that got you writing around with a Felt model of the neighborhood on the back of your bicycle?

  • 12:26:24

    FREDERICKSo that particular project is a process that we've been involved with since 2007 around the renovation of the East River Waterfront and, in particular, Pier 42, an abandoned industrial pier which is adjacent to the largest swath of public housing in Manhattan. And for long-time residents -- for decades, residents of those communities had been advocating for waterfront access and a park on their waterfront.

  • 12:26:51

    FREDERICKAnd then when kind of that -- those demands began to get traction, and there was some funding that was raised. There weren't necessarily the mechanisms within the city to allow for a more inclusive design process. What we found is that there was a need to create tools that could bring that process out into the community. So we created a mobile model of the East River Waterfront...

  • 12:27:15

    NNAMDIOut of felt.

  • 12:27:16

    FREDERICK...out of wood and felt that travels into tenant association meetings, into public housing developments, into schools attached, to a bike trailer. And it kind of provides a fun way for residents and youth to be engaged in decision making about their waterfront.

  • 12:27:33

    NNAMDIThey got a chance to exactly -- to see how crowded it was, right?

  • 12:27:37

    FREDERICKMm hmm.

  • 12:27:37

    NNAMDIAnd therefore, be able to make, I guess, more informed input into the process?

  • 12:27:42

    FREDERICKWell, they can visualize for the site and see a model of the site, and especially for an area that's been disconnected from the neighborhood for so long, it really helps for folks who are not trained in architecture and design to be able to visualize the scale of a site in relationship to their neighborhood and then to really kind of be involved in a very hands-on way in making a model of what their dream park might look like.

  • 12:28:08

    FREDERICKAnd the idea is not to ask everyday people to become architects and designers but to solicit programming ideas, dreams, aspirations for the waterfront through a more creative and accessible process that might be accessible to someone who doesn't speak English or someone who might not come to a community board meeting or be involved in a more traditional way.

  • 12:28:33

    NNAMDIBack to the phones. Remember that caller I said who couldn't stay on the line? Well, she's back. Mimi in Salisbury, Md. will speak for herself. Mimi, your turn.

  • 12:28:42

    MIMIHi. I was just listening to the conversation, and I think that it's wonderful that there's this grassroots initiative to get the community involved. But most of the time, these communities are not actively as able to assert their own agency and environment because of the lack of educational resources. What resources in educational programs are you providing to empower them so that they don't need to reach towards a larger institution to more easily affect their community?

  • 12:29:11

    MIMII mean, we have these graffiti artists that have been asserting their desire to affect the image and the look of their community over centuries that has -- it's not a recent thing that they've been doing this to push -- so how are we empowering them?

  • 12:29:27

    NNAMDII'll ask all of our panelists to take a stab at that, starting with you, Bryan Bell.

  • 12:29:31

    BELLWell, I think Annie's example is a wonderful type of the creativity that is being employed to involve the community. And I'll give another example. Dan Patera, who works at the Detroit Community -- I'm sorry -- Collaborative Design Center, he's done a participatory process in Detroit, which is a city of 800,000, that has involved 140,000 people. So as you can see with Annie's project and with Dan's project, this really is about democratic participation.

  • 12:30:08

    BELLAnd he did it not through one mechanism. He used digital tools for one, but he also had a little table and chair that he'd sat up -- sit up on corners because some people, that's how they like to communicate their vision for their city. So creativity for us design activists and for us public interest designers are not limited to sitting down and deciding where the windows go, but it's also about how we engage communities and make this decision making accessible to them.

  • 12:30:39

    NNAMDIIs this an aspect that, Jason, the NEA is also interested in?

  • 12:30:43

    SCHUPBACHAbsolutely. I think one of the things that's really exciting about the work is that it is not just architects and landscaper architects that are doing the work. It's people from all across the designer fields. There is an exciting organization in New York called the Center for Urban Pedagogy which actually uses graphic design to work with communities to help translate important issues to help people work -- maybe work through that issue or to bring awareness to an issue. Sometimes it ends -- I know they worked with the juvenile detention community.

  • 12:31:17

    SCHUPBACHAnd they actually used a comic book format to help kids that had just been arrested to understand what was going to happen to them next. So it is -- I think it's the way that people end up working with the community takes many different forms, and it kind of depends on what the actual project is, what kind of skill set you're looking for. But what's been so cool to see is just so many people from -- with so many different design skill sets engaging on so many different places and so many different types of communities, the variability is really astounding.

  • 12:31:48

    NNAMDIAnnie, care to add anything to that?

  • 12:31:49

    FREDERICKYeah. I just -- I'd like to echo that there is -- designers do bring this kind of creative problem-solving approach to this work so that there isn't -- I think this idea, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution that it really -- that the participatory process often emerges out of the needs of a particular community who's there, who's working on the problem.

  • 12:32:12

    FREDERICKAnd so, we may find that, OK, we need a series of public events to reach this constituency, or we need to find ways of making the process accessible to non-English speakers because we're working in a largely immigrant community. So I think that idea that we're constantly asking question and tailoring participatory design processes to a particular -- the needs of the design problem is really important, and it's why you see so many different expressions of the work.

  • 12:32:44

    NNAMDIMimi, does that answer your question?

  • 12:32:46

    MIMIIt's kind of -- it's great to see that there is -- that this way is for -- is of involvement of the community is there. I guess mine is more of a, how sustainable is it that they won't need you to be there later to affect change in their community? And what -- like, what kind of sustainable development is there in those local communities so that they can be the designers and that they can -- they don't need consistently to have this larger agency to come in and affect change in our community.

  • 12:33:20

    NNAMDIBryan Bell.

  • 12:33:21

    BELLThere's a great architect named Sergio Palleroni, and one thing he said that really meant something to me was that 90 percent of the impact of his projects have nothing to do with the built structure themselves. And what he means by that is when you have worked through a project with a community, you have empowered them to understand that the built environment is something that is within their responsibility and within their power to shape.

  • 12:33:53

    BELLSo I actually think that -- and, as designers, we're used to thinking about the actual physical product as what we do. But I think what we're talking about here is really magnifying that impact by really, you know, engaging -- by creating civic engagement and encouraging civic engagement so that when we're gone, when there's no designer in that community, there is something that remains.

  • 12:34:20

    BELLThe amazing story of Alice Cole (sic) in Bayview, Va., who -- they were going to put a maximum security prison right on her community. She was listening to the radio and heard this. It was going to happen. And she had never been an activist. She lived in a tiny, little low-income African-American community. She engaged her neighbors to stop this from happening.

  • 12:34:45

    BELLAnd they stopped a multi-million dollar maximum security prison working with Maurice Cox. Now, if you heard Alice Cole -- not just did they stop it. They also rebuilt their community to have, for one thing, sewer and water. If you heard Alice Cole speak now, you would understand what an amazing leader she has become and remains for that community. And so that's the kind of other benefit than actually just building the houses and the sewage and water for that community that, I think, this process can result in.

  • 12:35:24

    NNAMDIIt underscores not only the importance of community, Mimi, but also the importance of a radio.

  • 12:35:31

    NNAMDIMimi, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Bill in Washington, D.C. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:39

    BILLHi. I'm a director of a public-private partnerships, which focuses on infrastructure resilience, so I'm very familiar with the topic that you're talking about. And what we look at is more at a larger scale of the connections of infrastructure to regions, multiple communities or multiple districts and boroughs within that urban environment.

  • 12:36:01

    BILLAnd my question is more about scalability for the discussion here and the tools and resources that you are mentioning and referencing. Now, you have different resources there provided in one community that's supporting another community like electrical or water, like you have talked about earlier. So how do those multiple jurisdictional factors play into the resources and tools that you have available?

  • 12:36:31

    NNAMDICare to start, Jason?

  • 12:36:33

    SCHUPBACHSure. Absolutely. I think there's a number of different initiatives out there that do involve designers with social impact or public interest skills in the more regional efforts. One is an initiative called the Governor's Institute for Community Design, which brings design skills into working with governors and states on those big regional issues, trying to dig in and use the creative problem solving that we're talking about here, to look at those bigger infrastructure issues. So those projects do exist.

  • 12:37:07

    SCHUPBACHAgain, it's -- they do happen in different places, at different scales, but we have certainly seen that the people with these skill sets have been invited into those kinds of larger-scale conversations.

  • 12:37:19


  • 12:37:20

    FREDERICKSure. And I was just going to say that what we find with our work often is that, working at a very grassroots level, you often identify policy level changes that need to happen to make the work more effective. So one example I can give is that, having worked with the New York City Parks Department on many different participatory processes, we began to identify that there wasn't a more systemic way of engaging community around the capital design process.

  • 12:37:48

    FREDERICKAnd so we worked with Parks Department to create a toolkit called People Make Parks with an organization called Partnerships for Parks that would create a series of steps for engaging in the design of your public park that would be kind of guidelines for communities that wanted to engage in that process. And so I think from working at that very local level, we can begin to identify, kind of shifts that need to happen on the policy level as well and that there's an interesting play between working at both of those levels.

  • 12:38:18


  • 12:38:19

    SCHUPBACHRight. You hit the point exactly. I mean, I think I wanted to make the point that as important -- as incredibly important as the authentic community work, as the deeply embedded community work is, it's just as important to help leadership understand in communities political leadership, understand the real role that they play on supporting design too.

  • 12:38:39

    SCHUPBACHAnd so we have programs like the Mayor's Institute on City Design Image and the Governor's Institute, which really tries to help political leadership understand the important role that they play on these same kind of decisions and how these design decisions actually affect -- the decision they make really does affect the community too. So you never sort of get -- you never really are able to get off the hamster wheel of both the community work and the leadership work. You have to constantly do that.

  • 12:39:01

    NNAMDIThank you, Bill, for your call. We got an email from Bret, who says, "Isn't this an idea all designers talked about in the last century? Weren't Le Corbusier's towers -- if I'm pronouncing it correctly -- sold as improving social impact? We all know where that went. Le Corbusier was an influential architect who, in 1922, presented a plan for a contemporary city of towers for 3 million inhabitants. Many now see it as a dystopian idea."

  • 12:39:37

    NNAMDI"However," Bret writes, "while I support community-driven design, it is important that it is an informed public that is doing the design work. The uninformed public often has unreasonable expectations. How do your guests' programs create an informed public?" I think we might've discussed this before in some regard.

  • 12:39:47

    BELLWell, I think one of the big differences between some of the early modernists approach to social impact, certainly affordable housing, was a very top-down concept of architecture. And you can look at the Plan Voisin. You can look at his housing at Pessac, where he worked with the factory owner to design the housing. The workers were not involved in the decision-making. So that sort of Howard work, top-down model is a -- really doesn't take the wisdom of the communities into the decision-making.

  • 12:40:23

    BELLAnd this is -- we're not -- I'm not talking about participation from the communities just because it's a good democratic thing. I'm talking about that because it results in better, more impact design. Are you get -- there's a great challenge that I'd like to put forward. It's -- we -- the challenge of our time is to do much, much more with much, much less, OK?

  • 12:40:49

    NNAMDIWell, let's talk a little bit about that challenge in terms of a situation that people can really understand in Haiti.

  • 12:40:50

    BELLOK. All right. OK. Yes.

  • 12:40:55

    NNAMDIBecause you have a story that involves the importance of a common attitude in design involving Michael Murphy working with Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health in Haiti.

  • 12:41:04


  • 12:41:06

    NNAMDITell us that story.

  • 12:41:06

    BELLThis is a wonderful story, Kojo. Thanks for bringing it up. So this is sort of exhibit A about where architecture is now and where it could be. So Michael Murphy was a student, a graduate student five years ago, and heard a lecture by Paul Farmer, who is a founder of Partners In Health. And Michael went up to Paul Farmer after the lecture and said, I'd like to work for your architect.

  • 12:41:28

    BELLPaul Farmer was building hospitals in Rwanda on the site of old military installations. So it's a wonderful sort of healing not just symbolically, but actually for -- after the genocide in Rwanda. Paul Farmer said, why do I need an architect? I designed the last hospital on a napkin. So that demonstrates somebody who finds no value in design or architecture. So Michael said, well, can I volunteer to design the next hospital for you?

  • 12:41:57

    BELLSo while he was still a graduate student, Michael designed and built a hospital in Rwanda that serves 400,000 people. But what he quickly realized was that the hospitals that Paul Farmer were designing were actually spreading diseases. People would go there with the disease and spread it in the waiting areas and in the hallways. So Paul Farmer was actually doing a direct disservice to his mission because he didn't have a designer involved.

  • 12:42:24

    BELLSo after that, now Paul Farmer is an incredible design advocate, and Michael does not have to do any more volunteer projects. He graduated two years ago, and he has 33 paid people in his office. They're now building hospitals in Haiti, and obviously he has demonstrated the value to Paul Farmer and other NGOs. And so this is an example of -- you know, architects have -- recently had a 14 percent unemployment rate. So I think to show that there's amazing work out there that people value, that people will pay us for, is a clear example of where we could be.

  • 12:43:05

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If not, you can send us an email to You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Are you an architect, a designer? Do you find the field limited to high-end jobs with little social impact? You might want to follow Bryan Bell's advice. Call us, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:45:07

    NNAMDIWe're discussing the concept of public interest design and how that concept becomes reality. We're talking with Jason Schupbach. He is the director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts. Annie Frederick is the executive director of the Hester Street Collaborative, which is a nonprofit that seeks to empower underserved communities. And Bryan Bell is the executive director of Design Corps.

  • 12:45:30

    NNAMDIHe's also the founder of the Public Interest Design Institute and co-founder of the SEED Network for Social Economic Environmental Design. He's the author of "Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism." Bryan Bell will be giving a lecture at the University of Maryland. That's at 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15. That talk is free and open to the public.

  • 12:45:52

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Elaine, who says, "Architecture for humanity is another shoulder to stand on and deserving of its attention for pro bono work around the world." It takes a certain amount of time and a certain amount of effort, commitment, Annie, to follow these principles. How do you convince a developer or a city to incorporate these ideas and make it a priority?

  • 12:46:17

    FREDERICKI think you have to show the value, when you're working with the city, to doing this work. Often, city agencies are required to do some kind of community engagement around public projects, but don't necessarily have the capacity to do the kind of deep work that we're talking about here.

  • 12:46:35

    FREDERICKAnd I think what we found in working with the Parks Department really closely is that we've been able to demonstrate how a richer, deeper, more inclusive community process can actually result in a better design that better serves the community and that actually makes their approvals process move more smoothly because they're ultimately required to present the final design proposal back to the community, at least in New York City.

  • 12:47:03

    FREDERICKAnd what we found is that when communities engage from the beginning of the design process that there's much greater buy-in. So, from their end, there's a benefit there. And we found that that has been a process over time, and often working with city agencies is there's not one kind of entity. There are often many different departments and many different facets and personalities that you're working with. So that process is -- takes some time, but ultimately, I think, results in a really meaningful partnership between city government and local communities.

  • 12:47:39

    NNAMDIBack to the telephone. Here's Daniel in Silver Spring, Md. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:45

    DANIELHi. I was wondering, a lot of the things you're talking about, they seem to be more in the realm of public policy, something that architects and planners ought to play a central role in but, you know, as you've explained, but not something that we can actually design for.

  • 12:47:59

    DANIELSo, as an architect, I was wondering, it seems like a lot of the smart growth and new urbanist-type and TND-type movement for the last 20 years or so have been using this interdisciplinary approach whereby let's bring the public to coordinate their interest with also local environmental issues and all the other, you know, specialists that come into that effort, and primarily just by minimizing their impact on the land. So I was wondering if you all had thought about or do incorporate any of these ideas and why -- and also why don't I hear more about that in schooling today.

  • 12:48:37

    NNAMDIJason Schupbach?

  • 12:48:39

    SCHUPBACHWell, I think absolutely all those ideas are incorporated to a lot of the public interest design work. Design field is not huge. Everybody kind of knows and follows the latest trends and educates themselves about what's been going on.

  • 12:48:54

    SCHUPBACHI think what's unique about public interest design is it's very community-focused and very problem-solving-focused to really assist people in a serious way that may be a little bit different from some of the other sort of broader design movements that are out there, something like new urbanism, which had a very specific shape and form that was being applied to communities as opposed to a very -- you know, more of a conversation with the community about what they actually want and using creative skills to problem-solve that. So, yeah, I would say that, yeah, absolutely, it is being incorporated right now.

  • 12:49:37

    NNAMDIDaniel, thank you very much for your call. On now to Allan in Northwest Washington. Allan, your turn.

  • 12:49:44

    ALLANHi, Kojo and guests. It's a great, great show. I'm calling about a slightly different area, and that is the lack of community involvement in listening to the destruction of a Bertrand Goldberg building that Northwestern University wants to destroy (unintelligible)...

  • 12:50:00

    NNAMDIOh, you're breaking up on us. But you're saying -- you're talking about the lack of public input in decisions to destroy what you feel are important works of architecture.

  • 12:50:10

    ALLANExactly. And I'm wondering what the responsibility of an architect is to bid on. Northwestern wants this huge new Genome campus. And they want to destroy the Bertrand Goldberg premise building, which is curvilinear, and replace it with just boxes. And this is a historic building, and the historic review board was overruled by Rahm Emanuel. And that's not democracy.

  • 12:50:31

    NNAMDIWhat are they trying to put in place of that structure?

  • 12:50:34

    ALLANWell, it could be reused as part of a -- and, you know, the greenest building is a building that's reused and all that concrete and the...

  • 12:50:41

    NNAMDIYeah. But what's the proposal? What's the proposal on the table?

  • 12:50:44

    ALLANWell, their proposal is they just want to raise it and use it as a parking lot for a while, so they designed their big Genome campus that they're raising millions for...

  • 12:50:52

    NNAMDINorthwestern University wants to use -- reuse it for another purpose. How does one make -- what position does one take in situations like that, Anne Frederick?

  • 12:51:02

    FREDERICKWell, I think there needs to be a groundswell of movement of individuals who care about that kind of...

  • 12:51:10

    NNAMDITake to the streets, Allan. No, I'm sorry.

  • 12:51:13

    FREDERICKYou know, there would need to be a campaign like any other organizing campaign and the demonstration that people are really in the community are really invested in the preservation of that structure, and that there's an authentic interest in trying to save it, so looking at other, you know, historical preservation movements and how they get attraction over time.

  • 12:51:35

    NNAMDIAllan, thank you very much for your call. Here now, Stacy in Gettysburg, Md. Stacy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:43

    STACYHi. Thank you so much. It's really good to hear about how to organize a community. I think that it sounds like to me people are using the same skills that perhaps we did in the '60s. And it's great because so many people are just so disengaged from everything right now. You really have to convince them that it's going to be worth their time and effort and not just, you know, walking through.

  • 12:52:10

    STACYBut my real question -- I'm sorry -- is that since we can't just raise all the old buildings, what is the opportunity for this type of work to be done in communities that need maintenance and upgrade but are, you know, already built with, you know, non-functioning practically on what, you know, it's falling apart basically.

  • 12:52:35

    NNAMDIWell, this seems to -- get to the essence of the work that you're doing, Anne.

  • 12:52:40


  • 12:52:40

    FREDERICKMm hmm. I mean, we're often working in communities where there's crumbling infrastructure, and there's an adaptive reuse approach to looking at historic or older infrastructure and how it can be retrofitted for the current community needs. So a creative way of thinking about how do we identify the needs in a community and develop an architectural strategy or landscape strategy by adapting the existing infrastructure to meet those needs.

  • 12:53:14


  • 12:53:15

    BELLAnd just to go back to the Taos Pueblo example, I mean, the buildings were literally crumbling. What had happened was people had encased the adobe in concrete. And any water getting inside of that basically turned the adobe back to dirt. So you had crumbling buildings. But really what you had was an amazing cultural artifact.

  • 12:53:37

    BELLAnd what Jamie and Tomasita did was rally the community about the value, the asset that they had that needed to be preserved. And it was a lot of work. It was a lot harder than just going out and building double-wide trailers. But they recognized the cultural value, which became a sort of activist movement, and has resulted in this, not only just housing, traditional housing, but really a reinvigoration of their culture.

  • 12:54:06

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Stacy. We got an email from Mike, who asks, "Can your guests comment on programs that teach the next generation of citizens? There's a great effort from DC AIA -- that's the Architecture Institute of America -- and the Building Museum." Know anything about this, Jason Schupbach?

  • 12:54:22

    SCHUPBACHWell, there's a huge number of design education programs out there that both educates citizens and design skills and also assist in kind of keeping the future of design education going and training great future designers themselves. The National Building Museum has a fantastic huge youth program that brings in all kinds of youth from all over the District and the neighboring states to really help kids understand how they can use the problem-solving skills of design to think through the problems in their life.

  • 12:54:59

    SCHUPBACHAnd as -- we've seen a number of those emerge from across the country. There's a great program in, again, in New Mexico called Cornerstone Community Partnerships that actually uses the process of teaching adobe restoration skills to help some of the most troubled youth in that community to learn some real skill sets so they can then go and use to get jobs with. So there's a platter of this across the country but still not enough of them.

  • 12:55:25

    NNAMDIBryan, it's my understanding that you were told at Yale that you could either do beautiful design, good design or community design. Exactly, what does that mean? And is that still the thinking in schools of architecture?

  • 12:55:37

    BELLWell, actually, it -- we have a piece of data now that shows that that attitude has changed. We -- we've been funded through the AIA to research public interest practices in architecture, and we ask the question. Can you do quality design in public interest work? Ninety percent of the AIA members feel that you can do both good design and serve communities. So that is a transformative change, one of the things that makes things different. It's not a choice between good design and serving communities.

  • 12:56:10

    BELLYou can do the best design and serve communities. And I would like to just follow up on Jason's point that the American Institute of Architects, the National Office with Robert Ivy and Terri Stewart are really embracing this opportunity to serve the public in new ways and not just through the Latrobe but we are -- through these institutes, these public interest design institutes that they've -- that the research has led to is a good method of training the profession because, as you said, at Yale, I was not trained in how to do this.

  • 12:56:43

    NNAMDIAnd, Jason, there's another place where ideas are circulating, Can you talk about that? We only have about a minute left.

  • 12:56:49

    SCHUPBACHSure. Absolutely. Well, IDO is a world-famous design thinking and design service and product design firm. They were finding that they were getting so many calls from all across the world and people asking them, help us use your skills to help us figure out some of this really critical problems, like water systems in Nigeria and things like that.

  • 12:57:07

    SCHUPBACHAnd so they actually decided to form a nonprofit on the side of their firm where they would be able to lower their fees, raise money to be able to do this kind of work. And it is really a great example of a private firm realizing that they have a big role to play in helping communities all across the world.

  • 12:57:21

    NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. But, Anne, a lot of architects go in to this field with idealistic goals. When you first became an architect, what was your experience in your first professional job?

  • 12:57:31

    FREDERICKWell, I was doing mostly high-end residential work and just wasn't satisfied with that work and so was really desperate to find a way to apply my skills towards community-based practices and found it's just the process of getting to know a community and going deep into a community and understanding needs in a real way so that you can respond meaningfully.

  • 12:57:53

    NNAMDISo there is hope. Anne Frederick is the executive director of the Hester Street Collaborative. It's a nonprofit that seeks to empower underserved communities. Jason Schupbach is the director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts. And Bryan Bell is the executive director of Design Corps.

  • 12:58:10

    NNAMDIHe's also the founder of the Public Interest Design Institute, co-founder of the SEED Network or Social Economic Environmental Design, author of "Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism." He'll be giving a lecture at the University of Maryland, 6:15 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15, free, open to public. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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