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On "Eureka!" (Spring 2017)

I had the pleasure of reading the Eureka! issue in one sitting on a quiet March morning. I was struck by how much the yearning of designers to use their problem-solving skills to heal the world has become an ache in our current political climate. Being a wonk at heart, I find this raises a policy issue: How can so many of the great ideas featured in the issue — from Brooklyn Bridge Park (“A plan takes root”) and Somerville’s 100 Homes Initiative (“Home for good”) to the outdoor learning center at the Haley School in Roslindale (“A measure of impact”) — turn one-off wonders into broad policy solutions? Then I had my own eureka moment: Architects just need clients with the capacity to solve big problems.

We’ve spent most of the past 40 years hobbling government, and it’s not getting better. Nonprofits tend to strain from project to project. Maybe it’s time to empower nimble, entrepreneurial public-private partnerships to address long-term challenges. How about a regional climate-resilience conservancy that captures revenue from waterfront devel­opment and garners public funding and philanthropy to build and maintain coastal protection that doubles as an open-space amenity? How about a conservancy that builds and maintains a regional network of multiuse greenways that provide a safe, convenient way to navigate without a car? We could use one for middle-income housing and another one for cultural facilities.

This will probably take some time to accomplish. We should start soon.

Matthew Kiefer
Attorney, Goulston and Storrs
Boston


I read with interest the piece “Tonics and provocations” in your Eureka! issue. It is thrilling for us at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to see you cover the community development and empowerment work featured in Cynthia Smith’s By the People show at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and to read the other articles that interrogate the issues that occur when designers work on the complexities that surround improving American communities.

In recent years, the NEA has been working hard to support this type of work, whether it be called social-impact design, community-engaged design, or creative placemaking. We’ve done that through national convenings, webinars, and grants to nonprofits such as Kounkuey Design Initiative, BC Workshop, Tiny WPA, Project H, Epicenter, and many more.

I urge your readers to look at the materials we’ve gathered on our “Designing Equity” web page at arts.gov to learn more about the depth of conversation occurring around this work, especially on the future needs of the architectural practice. From our national platform, we have the honor of seeing the vast array of ways in which designers are engaging communities and hope that others will join us in supporting and discussing this work.

Jason Schupbach
Director of Design and Creative Placemaking Programs
National Endowment for the Arts

Washington, DC

(Note: In July, Schupbach begins a new job as director of the Design School at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.)


Designing for social justice has become the soup du jour in our profession. One can argue that few, if any, projects should be taken seriously without at least an expressed intent to respond to the needs of our most vulnerable populations — those who are subject to oppression and injustice of any kind. That design for social justice is at the forefront of our conversations and our work is a wonderful thing, but it reminds me of how much sustainable design and “green buildings” were in that position just a few years ago. How do we keep these initiatives from merely being buzzwords? How do we ensure that we are, indeed, designing for social justice and not just applying the rhetoric for aesthetics and accolades?

In “Tonics and provocations,” Cynthia Smith states that “communities are learning to recognize and value existing assets in both the natural and built environments that have long been overlooked.” The first real step toward designing for social justice is allowing the disenfranchised the opportunity to see the value in their communities and, most important, in themselves, then allowing them to take over the design process.

This leads to the capacity to envision and fulfill their own dreams and destinies. If you’ve been overlooked for most of your life, the best gift someone can give you is the realization that you are seen and you are heard — and the space and freedom for that newfound agency to bloom and grow. Anything short of that would simply maintain the status quo. It’s not “public participation for public participation’s sake”: design for social justice is an intentional and iterative pooling of public input and ideas from which design can give form.

Wendell T. Joseph
Neighborhood planner
Community Development Department
City of Cambridge


As a recent design school graduate, I identified with “Toward an ideal,” the essay by Justin Crane AIA. There is a stark difference between the mentality you encounter in school and the mentality you encounter in a firm. Research and innovation are driven in the academic realm and then slowly, over time, picked up in business practices. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to explore how this manifests in practice, predom-inantly in the form of virtual reality, but was caught off guard by how much I would have to sell the idea and how clear a picture I would need to paint of how VR can be used.

The first question I always get is: Does it make sense for the business? I’m learning, over time, how to relate every experience back to the value it can add to the firm. Sometimes, though, it’s frustrating to have to spin everything when I believe in experimentation for the sake of discovery. Call me a post-rationalist. I’m at an early stage of my career yet still close to the academic mindset, and I struggle with what it feels like to be stuck between these two competing thresholds.

Academia drives innovation, but practitioners build the world we inhabit. To echo Crane’s point, one can’t live without the other. As a scholar, I have to appreciate the need for an investment that adds more value than it costs. As a practitioner, I must stay open-minded to innovations that might change the way I practice. There’s an important balance between the idealism of academia and the bottom line of business. Both mediums have opportunities to learn from each other.

Angeline Focht
Architecture, Shepley Bulfinch
Boston


The focus throughout the Eureka! issue on design’s innate impact — naturally solutions-based and more often than not changing our future in positive ways — created many pause-and-reflect moments for me. Each essay showcased a snapshot of design’s impact; in total, we are left with an infinite understanding of the depth and breadth of this impact.

In the pause, we see exactly what design is reflecting to us today. Sam Batchelor AIA shows a thoughtful example of how a seed planted decades ago continues to grow a mini-forest of ideas and practices. I see how Sam Mockbee and Steve Badanes’ architectural activism and community-build theories influence even small integration efforts in my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island.

The essay by Kaki Martin ASLA on well-designed healing spaces shows how a comprehensive design for the medical environment complements the field in a small but powerful way. Although society is acutely aware of diseases and other health problems, we haven’t historically connected our environments to healing or even health in general; CAMA’s work is changing that.

What designers do today is often simple and even perhaps obvious, yet their thoughtful efforts will help human interaction evolve in the future. This is why I cofounded DESIGNxRI, a nonprofit economic development organization for the design sector in Rhode Island. I’m not a designer, but rather someone who has always recognized the impact of the creative, problem-solving process that designers bring to my world.

At DESIGNxRI, we work to activate the designers’ impact. Although our work focuses on attracting commerce and business development to design, its ultimate purpose is to help design to continue to shape our world. Thank you for giving me the time to pause, reflect, and celebrate, again, the influence the design field is making every day.

Lisa Carnevale 
Cofounder and executive director, DESIGNxRI
Providence, Rhode Island