PSU School of Architecture launches new Certificate in Public Interest Design
Author: Karen O'Donnell Stein
Posted: February 17, 2015

With communities around the world facing an increasing number of natural disasters, poverty, community displacement, access to healthy food and safe spaces, and a host of other threats to their stability and well-being, the need for sustainable, human-centered solutions is growing. Responding to an urgent need for educated leaders who can help these communities respond to crises and become more resilient, Portland State University’s School of Architecture will launch a new Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design, the school announced today. The program, led by PSU’s Center for Public Interest Design, is the first academic certificate in public interest design in the United States, with an innovative combination of fieldwork and cross-disciplinary coursework in carefully selected fields at Portland State University.

The Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design has been created as a means to prepare future leaders in architecture, urban planning, sustainability, community development and other fields to aid currently underserved populations through sustainable, human-centered design methods. The Certificate will provide an educational foundation for entry into the emerging field of Public Interest Design, through academic studies and hands-on experience in the field, working directly with communities in need, addressing issues such as inadequate shelter, food and water scarcity, disaster preparedness and recovery, and economic well-being.

The content of this certificate exemplifies the mission of the Center for Public Interest Design, a research and action center established in 2013 to investigate, promote and engage in inclusive design practices that address the growing needs of communities worldwide—from developing nations around the world to underserved neighborhoods in our own local region. The Certificate is based on several decades of progressive practice and research by the Center for Public Interest Design’s five faculty members and its
 founding director, Sergio Palleroni. Professor Palleroni, a faculty member in the School of Architecture, is an internationally recognized leader in the field of Public Interest Design and has been a pioneer in creating architectural service-learning programs around the world as co-founder of the renowned design-build organization, the BaSiC Initiative. 

Debate has been growing among practitioners and schools of architecture on how best to address the changing needs of communities in the US and abroad, and how to prepare students for a career in public interest design. Many schools in the country are creating curriculum to address this need, and Portland State has taken the pioneering step to create a career path with this certificate. 

“This program represents major progress and is a monumental benchmark in the emerging area of public interest design,” commented Bryan Bell, founder and executive director of the influential public interest design organization Design Corps.

“PSU and its Center for Public Interest Design have five leaders in this field with decades of field and teaching experience who will provide a needed concentration of study for those interested in effectively advancing their own understanding, abilities and practice for the public good,” Bell continued.

The Certificate in Public Interest Design will be offered to both graduate students and professionals in Portland and beyond. The certificate consists of 18 credit hours of course options from several disciplines, with a focus on the “triple bottom line” of sustainability (social, environmental and economic), ranging from Social Entrepreneurship to Environmental Sustainability to Creating Collaborative Communities. The coursework is anchored by a seminar in public interest design and culminates in fieldwork or practicum on a real-world public interest design project.

The fieldwork component will provide students with hands-on experience through immersive applied-learning opportunities. Examples of CPID projects in which a student might engage in fieldwork include current design-build projects in Haiti, Inner Mongolia and Buenos Aires, planning and development work with disinvested neighborhoods in California’s Central Valley and along the U.S. Mexican border, resiliency planning and design for U.S. Plains Indian tribes, and housing projects in the United States and abroad. Internships at public interest design firms, international development agencies and local, national and international practices will also be an important component of the certificate.

Entry into the Certificate in Public Interest Design program is competitive, and the application process will open soon, with coursework starting as early as Spring 2015. The program is open to current and incoming PSU graduate students and professionals wishing to build an educational foundation to work in the field of public interest design. Those who are interested in applying to the certificate program are invited to contact