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The Center for Public Interest Design
The Center for Public Interest Design

In architecture, the concept of Public Interest Design (PID) emphasizes the creation or redesign of products, environments, and systems, with a clear human-centered approach and is often likened to the well-established fields of public interest law and public health.

"PID is a social movement as much as it is a business practice. It is as conscious of the world as it is of our need to shape the world to our own designs. It Democratizes design while at the same time setting design apart from everything that’s come before," said Sergio Palleroni, Director of the Center for Public Interest Design (CPID) in the School of Architecture at Portland State University. According to Palleroni, PID is good design made available to everyone—design that promotes health, equity, and sustainability.

The mission of the Center for Public Interest Design is to serve communities in need worldwide by researching and  promoting design and building practices that are socially conscious, environmentally sustainable and economically accessible to all and by doing so elevate the civic role of these professions as agents of change.

The CPID was launched in the spring of 2013 to study and promote design practices that make the world better for everyone regardless of income or social class. The Center also makes public engagement part of its agenda. It takes on social issues at home and farther afield. It educates communities and future generations of architects and designers looking to become engaged in PID. And the Center fosters networks with community partners outside the university to raise awareness of and support for PID.

“Isolation from design thinking affects us in every way conceivable,” Palleroni said. “At the Center, we think everyone deserves designs for a better world, especially the poor and the underrepresented. So we’re trying to expand the reach of good design in order to build an improved society filled with more open, healthier, and high-performing environments.”

As Palleroni points out, bringing good design to the public en mass will require nothing short of a paradigm shift in the way architects and designers work with their clients. The CPID hopes to propel that shift by educating students and bringing together a diverse, multidisiplinary team of PSU architecture faculty, researchers from around the uniersity, and community partners from the metro region and beyond interested in PID.

Designed by Palleroni and his wife, Margarette Leite, The Green Modular Classroom is an example of PID in action. Troubled by the archaic modular classrooms their child attended classes in, Palleroni and Leite mobilized, convening a charrette of parents, community members, educators, and experts who worked together to develop a design-based solution to the problems posed by standard modular classrooms. The result was an award-winning design that met the needs of the school district, satisfied parents’ desire for a better educational environment for their children, and received nationwide recognition for innovations in both design and design practices.

As a part of its community outreach and education efforts, the CPID hopes to engage the community in similar design exercises and workshops as those that led to the development of the Green Modular Classroom.

“Out of these processes stronger civic institutions emerge,” Palleroni said, referring to the processes that led to the Green Modular Classroom. “And when we create stronger civic institutions, people have a better idea of the opportunities available to them and they can act more effectively on their needs. And when designers and architects are involved, we can build to best accommodate those needs.”

To introduce the community to the concept of PID, the center partnered with Mercy Corps to hold a series of community workshops. The first was held spring in the spring of 2014. At the end of the workshop, 90 design professionals and students were certified in PID, having learned how to begin PID projects, how to get projects off the ground, financed, and best practices related to community partnerships. The Center plans to host similar workshops two or three times a year. Future workshops will address broad social issues like homelessness and hunger from a design perspective and involve the community in designing solutions.

It's about bringing great design to the people who need it.

—Sergio Palleroni

CPID’s local and global community projects include:

“The idea is that 10 years from now,” Palleroni said, “the Center will be the hub to connect those in need of PID with practitioners. The Center will be writing case studies and there will be hundreds of designers here in the city. We want to address the big issues that designers can’t address on their own: homelessness, public housing, and similar issues. And we want to be an archive of best practices, a repository of resources where people can come and learn about architecture, design, and public interest, and then take what they’ve learned to the people who most need it. The Center is a resource for those with their eyes on a future where social justice reigns and people possess the tools and resources to live sustainably."

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