On Saturday, March 22nd, designers, academics, and innovators–among them a robust contingent of Loebs–gathered for the Structures for Inclusion 14 conference at Parsons the New School for Design in Manhattan. The focus of the conference was the question “What is the future of Public Interest Design?” Content ranged from the 2014 SEED Award-winning projects—for work addressing critical social, economic and environmental issues—to a broad look at the psychology of community building.
While panel speakers focused on the particularities of their projects and work, which gave listeners insight into how designers approach their design, the afternoon breakout sessions, led by leading thinkers from a wide range of backgrounds, addressed more specific strategies in design deployment. Dan Pitera (LF ‘05) from the Detroit Collaborative Design Center led a Sunday breakout session that focused on “Diverse Tools for Broad Engagement.” Pitera said that there is no single formula for civic engagement: “It was about trying to help people with the thought process on how to set up a civic engagement process.” “We really analyze the situation and develop tactics and strategies around that.”
Dr. Mindy T. Fullilove, a psychiatrist interested in the links between the environment and mental health, opened Saturday morning’s second panel, “Planning to Stay: Roots of Urban Alchemy.” She holds “planning to stay” as a guiding principle for people working to build a place for themselves. “We’ve all been sold that it’s okay to move people.” “What I’m arguing is that we make a cognitive shift: it’s not okay to just move people.”
Fullilove is aware that some building and settlement programs—or the lack thereof—can destroy neighborhoods. She speaks to the need to design and support neighborhoods to bring about cohesiveness. Building neighborhoods, for Fullilove, entails ensuring the foundations for groups to experience a sense of solidarity or community, which is no easy task.
Pitera, like Fullilove, stresses the importance of community involvement as a component of design. “We have to look for options that maintain community when we design and not ones that split them up." Pitera was excited to see Fullilove engaging with architects and designers at the conference, “It’s wonderful to see she’s lecturing more to architects because I think it’s imperative that her work is something that our profession needs to embrace.”
Current Loeb Helen Lochhead, whose work as an architect and urban designer has included city improvement programs for Sydney, Australia, was present for the conference panels and workshops. “I enjoyed the workshops the most, as they had some really useful lessons,” said Lochhead.
For Lochhead, the conference sparked questions of scalability and replication of the presented work in other contexts. “During the Saturday morning I appreciated the caliber and diversity of the SEED Award winning projects. However, I would like to hear more about potential strategies for scaling up and/or replication of these initiatives. What are the lessons for other places? How would you do it differently next time? What was the biggest hurdle or success?”
Questions raised at the conference generated excitement and spoke to the momentum building among students and young professionals for public interest design. “I’ve been to almost every Structures for Inclusion conference,” said Pitera. “I am thrilled to see that Structures for Inclusion has grown and matured while retaining the character that it had and continuing to attract new students.”