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Sergio Palleroni and Todd Ferry don’t refuse pleas for design assistance.
They head the Center for Public Interest Design in Portland State University’s School of Architecture, and have offered their design services to a variety of domestic and international projects that serve the common good. Palleroni, an architecture professor, and Todd, a research associate, have worked with PSU architecture students to help improve an orphanage in Haiti, develop a sustainable modular classroom and find housing solutions for homeless youth.
“It takes a certain kind of dedication to this work,” Palleroni said. “It’s full-time work to do. It’s been complicated that we’ve had a lot of success with people saying, ‘Help us.’”
Resources are limited, he said. That’s why the center, since being established last summer, is looking beyond individual projects and working to inspire professional architects to get involved in their communities and those abroad, Palleroni said.
“The mission right now is to transform the profession itself,” he said. “How do we create projects that open the eyes of professionals of how they can help out?”
Along with working with PSU and University of Oregon architecture students, Palleroni and Ferry have taught courses for design professionals through the American Institute of Architects. They’re hoping to find more ways to engage the Portland-area design community, including documentation of their projects to teach architecture students and professionals about public interest design, Palleroni said.
“It’s the design and construction of something that you need,” he said. “(Architects) are feeling they want to be part of the change. We really are trained to address all the issues that the public needs with design.”
The aim of the center, started via an anonymous $1.5 million gift to PSU, is to change how architects perceive design, Ferry said.
“We’re trying to be really strategic,” he said. “You can really make something beautiful, but really working with the community, having the greatest effect possible.”
Architectural designs too often focus solely on the clients, not society as a whole, Palleroni said. “We need more (architects) serving broader needs,” he said.
Palleroni said the center will help remind architects jaded by commercial aspects why they entered the field.
“It’s a profession filled with idealists,” he said. “Often the realities of the way the market is constructed drives us to do business as usual. What we’ve forgotten is what drove us into architecture, which is community need … What’s been lost is that humanizing aspect of architecture.”
This notion led PSU student Dylan Morgan to become a graduate assistant with the center.
“Most of us come in with a certain amount of idealism,” he said. “We’re all at least aware of the value of designing for social need.”
Inviting PSU and University of Oregon architecture students to travel to Haiti to assist the center at an orphanage in Titanyen has helped further push the merits of public interest design, Palleroni said.
“You can read about the good deeds of others,” he said. “There’s literally nothing like doing it yourself. You see the need. It really hits you in the gut and then you do something. You can see the effect right away.”
Palleroni said he’s been pleased to see increasing interest in the Portland-area design community to collaborate with the center.
“There is a call for all of us to be involved. We’ve got so much more interest from architects and engineers and planners,” he said. “We feel like all of a sudden the whole village has shown up.”