Fall 2021

We live in an unprecedented time, one which is forever changing an architect’s relationship with the communities in which we work. The ravages of this pandemic have already begun to cause us to rethink how we design public spaces. At the same time, the shortcomings of our profession—it’s elitism, the high-end economic niche we work within and the woefully small percentage that people of color play in architecture—have been laid bare; much of it due to being caught up in the groundswell of voices from across the world that have demanded racial equity and environmental justice for everyone. Over the last twenty years a small but growing movement within our profession and academia has been working to achieve a more inclusive and democratic approach to the way architects work with clients and communities. Numerous monikers are used to describe it—community-driven design, human-centered design, socially responsible design, social equity design, public interest design—whatever its name, the triple bottom line has been to work for social, economic and ecological change through the way we designers respond to community need.

          The seminar will focus on these three pillars of that movement, as a way to consider equity and its ethical implication in this time of the Anthropocene. We’ll examine, how designers might better respond to timely issues raised by Black Lives Matter, how we can help implement the Green New Deal, and how we should strive for social/environmental justice the world over. We’ll investigate how the things we use and make—focusing on architect-designed buildings and communities—have contributed to issues of inequity and helped reshaped the very geologic formation of our planet, now referred to as “the Anthropocene."

          We’ll look at ethics in design and how the role of architects is rapidly changing, much of it brought about by a need to adjust our priorities, or suffer the consequences of obsolescence. To do that, we’ll first focus on how to become more effective through public interest design methodologies, discovering helpful tools that can be used to achieve social economic and ecological change for communities in which we work. The second part of our seminar will examine communities along the Gulf Coast—Houston, Galveston, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Biloxi, Pensacola—that have suffered from their own share of social and environmental inequity. We’ll explore how those communities overcame many of those injustices, mostly through the hard work of individuals and local non-profits meaning to make their communities beneficial for all. 

          The seminar is intended to empower students, equipping them with social-equity design approaches in how designers—through non-traditional roles—can benefit the communities in which they work, while identifying and employing ways in which architects and planners can make better well-designed, resilient and equitable communities that promote dignity for all. The goal is a re-imagined perspective for designers, to see that inspirational and inventive work is produced so communities can become more dignified places in which to live and work.

          Group discussions, readings and instructor-student interaction are planned so that we explore more democratic ways designers can consider issues of equity when working with the public. The seminar will host leaders in the Public Interest Design field from across the country, engaging them in one-on-one discussions. There will also be a series of films that address contemporary issues of racial justice and ecological change. Students will also take part in a series of research-based assignments in which they’ll develop short presentations for their fellow students.