When I began my career twenty-five years ago, I could not have imagined that we would be establishing a Center for Public Interest Design. Then, it seemed that so much work needed to be done to address the growing needs of communities worldwide, and that the skills we had been taught in school were not sufficient to help us solve these complex problems.
Thankfully, this has all changed. Today, public interest design practices are being heralded for making transformative and systemic change in our communities.
This new approach has brought energy and relevance to the field of design, and students, professionals and communities have all been activated by the possibilities presented by public interest design. The work of organizations such as Design Corps, Public Architecture, Architecture for Humanity and Architects Without Borders has been seminal in helping to connect designers with public needs. University-based programs such as the Rural Studio and BaSiC Initiative have also played an essential role.
But how do we connect these programs to the profession? How do we begin to create the body of knowledge needed to make these emerging ideas realize their full potential?
Research is needed: research that investigates the best of these emerging models of practice, and participatory action research that accounts for the contribution of client communities and the unique social, political and economic conditions of each place—while making the best use of our planet’s limited resources. Here is where sustainability and the needs of communities intersect. This Center hopes to move beyond the divide between sustainability and public interest design by looking at them as part of the same challenge. We hope to test our research through acts of design with communities in need, because participatory action research—findings that are grounded in communities’ living conditions—offers the greatest opportunity to effect long-term change. As Raul Pantaleo, one of the great public interest designers we interviewed for the Latrobe Prize research, said to us:
“To be a good public interest designer you must be a citizen first.”
At the Center for Public Interest Design, we are striving to be good citizens—working to address social justice issues with sustainability and design. We invite you to join us in this important work.
Welcome to our Center for Public Interest Design!